Category: Marijuana Possession

“Herb is the healing of the nation, alcohol is the destruction.” Bob Marley

According to drugwarfacts.org, 33,171 deaths last year were alcohol related. Despite this fact, alcohol has been fully legalized in the United States since 1933. By contrast, zero deaths have been associated with marijuana and yet, the drug remains illegal in many states. Although the District of Columbia has legalized recreational use of marijuana for adults 21 and older, there remain many grey areas when it comes to consumption and sale of the drug. Public consumption of marijuana remains illegal and possession of marijuana on federal lands like the National Mall remains illegal because these lands are governed by federal laws, not those of the District of Columbia.

Laws Governing Pop-Up Marijuana Events in DC

In the District of Columbia, marijuana pop-up events are becoming increasingly popular and it is important to understand how DC’s marijuana laws apply to these events. Since Initiative 71 went into effect in 2015, it has been legal for a person who is at least 21 years old to possess two ounces or less of marijuana, although it remains illegal to sell any amount of marijuana to another person. After Initiative 71, the possession of more than 2 ounces of marijuana by an adult is a misdemeanor crime that carries with it a penalty of up to 6 months of incarceration and a fine of up to $1000. Cannabis vendors at pop-up events have circumvented DC’s prohibition on the sale of marijuana by selling other products, such as t-shirts, baked goods, juice, and hats, that come with a “gift” of marijuana upon purchase. Although the “transfer” or “gifting” (as opposed to the sale) of up to one ounce of marijuana is technically legal, DC law enforcement does not view transfers that take place upon the sale of a non-marijuana product as true “gifts” but instead as thinly veiled illegal transactions. In fact, in recent months, the DC police have worked to shut down such events. Last month, 27 people were arrested in Northeast Washington after police raided a marijuana pop-up shop inside a back alley event studio. Although managers of the event claimed that it was in compliance with DC law, gifting marijuana alongside a purchase is still not considered lawful by DC police.

The only legal ways to obtain marijuana in DC are to grow it yourself, receive one ounce or less from a friend who grows it, or register as a medical cannabis patient with the Department of Health and obtain it from one of the five dispensaries in DC. If you are thinking of growing marijuana at home, keep in mind that DC residents are permitted to cultivate up to six marijuana plants within their residence, no more than three of which may be mature. If you or someone you know has been charged with marijuana possession in DC, contact our office immediately, we are here to help you.

What are Your Chances of Being Arrested at a Pop-up Event?

As the popularity of marijuana pop up events has increased, so too have complaints and anonymous tips regarding the pop-ups, and arrests are on the rise. Law enforcement has warned that they are specifically targeting vendors at DC’s marijuana pop-up events. While the police are prohibited from conducting warrantless, unreasonable searches of marijuana pop-ups by the fourth amendment, they often team up with regulatory bodies such as ABRA (Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration) and DC’s business licensing agency and use regulatory searches as a pretext for investigating criminal wrongdoings as well as regulatory violations.

The view on cannabis, commonly known as marijuana, is starting to shift as the laws are changing. In 2015, cannabis with specific guidelines was legalized in Washington DC. Medical marijuana was used and prescribed in DC for years before it was legalized for recreational use. The laws around medical marijuana in the District of Columbia has not changed since cannabis has been legalized for recreational use, so individuals with a medical marijuana card, still cannot use their medical marijuana in public. The difference between medical marijuana and recreational marijuana is important because it sets the guidelines for the purpose of marijuana usage.

Laws Governing Marijuana Possession in DC

Attorneys at Bruckheim & Patel are extremely knowledgeable in the laws governing marijuana possession in DC. In the District of Columbia, if one is over the age of 21, then it is legal to possess up to 2 ounces of cannabis. One can own up to six mature cannabis plants and can own up to six other plants that have not reached maturity. The penalty for violating the amount of cannabis one can grow or possess is a misdemeanor charge carrying a punishment up to 6 months incarceration and up to $1,000 fine. If an individual has a medical marijuana card, then one can possess over 2 ounces if cannabis because it has been prescribed by a doctor.

One can distribute cannabis up to 6 plants or up to 2 ounces to others over the age of 21, but no payment can be given for said cannabis. In other words, it can be a gift, but if there is any form of payment or exchange, then it is a crime. If one gives under 6 plants or under 2 ounces of cannabis to an individual under the age of 21, then it counts as a charge of distributing to a minor. If one is caught distributing less than a ½ pound of cannabis for profit and it is their first offense, one can be punished with a fine of up to $1,000 and up to 6 months in jail. For any subsequent offense, one could face up to 2 years in prison and a $5,000 fine. If the amount of cannabis is over a ½ pound, then one could face up to 5 years in prison and a $50,000 fine.

Legalizing Marijuana in Washington DC

Washington DC is a special case when it comes to legalizing marijuana because cannabis still has not been legalized at a federal level. This means that federal law enforcement can still arrest an individual for using cannabis on federal land, such as the national mall. It is important to know exactly what kind of land one is on when consuming cannabis in public because one could end up being arrested and face charges because of where they were when consuming cannabis.

If you are charged with possession of marijuana or distribution of marijuana, it is important to contact an attorney that is knowledgeable in the laws in the District of Columbia to defend your case. Contact our attorneys at Bruckheim & Patel for a free confidential evaluation.

On March 5, 2014, the D.C. Council decriminalized the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana. A few months later, the voters of Washington, D.C. took another big step by passing Initiative 71, which completely legalized the small possession and cultivation of marijuana. Following the passage of this citizen initiative on February 26, 2015, it is legal to possess up to two ounces of marijuana and grow up to three marijuana plants in the District of Columbia.

The District of Columbia does not allow citizen initiatives to require the spending of city funds. Therefore, Initiative 71 could not regulate or legalize the sale of marijuana because doing so would require the use of city funds.

Not long after the passage of the initiative, Congress went against the residents’ clear desires and made it certain that the District will not be able to issue regulations any time soon. Congress reviews all of D.C.’s laws and controls D.C.’s budget. This past June, Congress attached a rider to the $1.1 trillion spending bill that prohibited D.C. from “enact[ing] any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties associated with the possession, use, or distribution of any schedule I substance.” This rider remains in effect until 2017.

This means that, because the D.C. councilmember’s are paid by city funds, the council is not allowed to even discuss marijuana legalization or create any regulation or taxation system for the sale of marijuana until at least 2017. Therefore, it is still illegal for marijuana to be bought or sold in the District.

There are only three ways under District of Columbia law that someone can legally obtain marijuana. First, they can get it from someone as a “gift” without payment. Of course, this calls into question how the giver received the marijuana in the first place. Second, they can get a medical marijuana prescription from a doctor. Under the D.C. Department of Health Medical Marijuana Program, the doctor must make a formal recommendation that marijuana is medically necessary to diminish the side effects of a qualifying medical treatment or is medically necessary to treat a patient’s qualifying medical condition. The third way to legally obtain marijuana in the District is to grow it on your own plants. However, marijuana is difficult to grow and requires an extensive amount of work and very specific – and expensive – equipment. Cultivating marijuana is probably not feasible for the average casual marijuana user.

The Washington Post reported that this limbo created by the law has actually served to strengthen the marijuana “black market.” The ambiguity has opened up unique opportunities for dealers to test the lines between donations and sales. Dealers also now feel more comfortable advertising on websites such as Craigslist or giving prospective buyers “free samples” of their product in an effort to increase their business.

The Chief of Staff for Mayor Muriel Bowser, John Falcicchio, accurately blames Congress for the rise of the marijuana “black market” following the legalization of possession. In fact, the Washington Post quoted Falcicchio as saying: “In D.C. it shouldn’t be called the black market; it should be called the Harris market,” referring to Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) who spearheaded Congress’s budget rider that prohibited D.C. from regulating the sale or taxation of marijuana.

This prohibition has cost the District of Columbia a substantial amount of money. At the Joint Public Hearing on Marijuana Legalization and Regulation, the Director of Fiscal and Legislative Analysis at the Office of Revenue Analysis analyzed the prospective tax revenue if a 15% sales tax was imposed on marijuana and marijuana products. He testified that he expected the sales tax to bring in approximately $130 million dollars in tax revenue per year.

In the criminal law context, this legalization has had some effect. Since the legislation, prosecutions for marijuana possession have been non-existent and the number of arrests and convictions for marijuana related charges has greatly reduced. Further, the D.C. Council created legislation that permits the expungement, or sealing, of prior marijuana possession cases under D.C. Code § 16-803.02. Under this law, any person who has ever been arrested, charged, or convicted for marijuana possession in the District of Columbia can have their record sealed from the public by filing a motion with the court. You can learn more about expunging or sealing a criminal record in the District here.

While this legalization has a long way to go, D.C. has impressively held its ground by passing the marijuana legalization despite the vocal pushback from Congress. The hope is that this sweeping change in the view of marijuana throughout the country will encourage Congress to loosen their reins on D.C. and allow the Council to regulate and tax marijuana in a way that will benefit the criminal justice system, the residents, and the District

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