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Washington, D.C. Delays Weed Gifting Shop Inspections

A.J. Herrington

By A.J. Herrington

September 8, 2022

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Civic officials in

are delaying a plan to inspect the city’s weed gifting shops this week, putting the effort to control the grey market for cannabis in the nation’s capital temporarily on hold. D.C. officials announced last month that the city would begin inspecting the gifting shops, which sell merchandise such as clothing and art and include what is ostensibly a gift of cannabis with the purchase.

Under the plan, the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Administration (ABRA) was to begin inspecting the shops after Labor Day. Inspectors will be checking to ensure compliance with the city’s health and fire codes, confirming that the alleged weed gifting shops have obtained the proper business licenses and are collecting sales tax as required by law. ABRA is responsible for regulating the city’s licensed medical marijuana retailers and will likely fill the same role for adult-use businesses if recreational marijuana sales are legalized.

The inspections were to be carried out by a “Joint Cannabis Force” made up of several different city agencies including D.C. Health, the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, the Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department and the Office of Tax and Revenue. Susana Castillo, a spokeswoman for D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, did not provide any details to explain why the inspections were being delayed. 

“Eventually it will happen, but right now there’s some work that needs to get done,”

.

Unidentified sources with knowledge of the situation told The DCist that the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) had raised concerns about the protocol for the planned inspections, including how to handle the potential discovery of weapons or other illegal items. Previously, MPD officers have obtained warrants to search weed gifting stores and found weapons and large quantities of cannabis when the warrants are executed.

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Rise of the Weed Gifting Grey Market

Although possession of cannabis has been legal in Washington, D.C. since the passage of a 2014 ballot measure, the federal government has blocked implementation of the law that would allow for the opening of recreational pot retailers. The lack of regulated shops has led to a bustling grey market for cannabis in the city, with weed gifting shops a common scheme to skirt laws against cannabis sales. City officials have made attempts to rein in the unregulated market, which pose a competitive threat to Washington, D.C.’s licensed medical marijuana retailers.

City leaders including D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson have made several attempts to control the marijuana gifting shops. He has made two attempts to pass legislation to regulate the shops this year, and in June the city announced an initiative to allow medical marijuana patients to self-certify their eligibility to use cannabis medicinally.

“The District has to get control of this illegal market,” Mendelson said, referring to the cannabis gifting shops. “California let it get out of hand and now they’re having a hell of a time trying to control their black market. Enforcement is going to have to happen, sooner or later.”

Mendelson said he was surprised when he learned on Tuesday that the planned inspections would not be carried out this week. He added that he is not sure further attempts at legislation will help control the gifting shops.

“If the mayor’s agencies are reluctant to enforce, it throws into question whether anything we do would make a difference,” he said.

Lonny Bramzon, an attorney and owner of the marijuana gifting store Street Lawyer Services, said he does not consider the announcement from ABRA to be specifically targeting cannabis. But he said the inspections will make it easy for the city to close the shops that are not complying with city ordinances.

“It seems that ABRA isn’t concerned with the instrumentality of the gifting. It seems like they’re concerned with business licenses and certificates of occupancy,”

in August. “If somebody is going to open a coffee shop, they’re going to get their licenses and do the inspections. But because of the nature of the [marijuana] business, there’s a higher chance people will open without the proper licenses. This might be a backhanded way to shut down some of those shops. I would like to make sure everyone has their licenses and is paying their taxes like everyone else.”

A.J. Herrington

About The Author

A.J. Herrington

HIGH THERE MISSION

WE’RE A CREATIVE COMMUNITY — EXPLORING THE SCIENCE, CRAFT, AND CULTURE OF CANNABIS.
WE BELIEVE THAT WE HAVE A COLLECTIVE RESPONSIBILITY TOWARDS ERADICATING THE STIGMA, MISINFORMATION, AND INEQUITIES SURROUNDING THIS PLANT, SO WE CAN UNLOCK ITS TRUE POTENTIAL FOR ALL.

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