District of Columbia Cannabis Laws

Is Cannabis Legal In District of Columbia?
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D.C. Law: 

StateRecreationalMedical MarijuanaCBD
District of ColumbiaYesYesYes

Federal Law:

Recreational Medical MarijuanaCBD

Is recreational cannabis legal in D.C.?

Yes. But D.C.’s cannabis laws are notoriously complicated. 

Recreational cannabis became legal in 2014 with voter-approved *Initiative 71. Under this measure, people over the age of 21 in D.C. may privately:

  • possess up to 2 oz. of cannabis
  • grow six plants in their homes 
  • transfer 1 oz to another adult.

Because the U.S. Congress oversees D.C.’s government, local governments are prevented from regulating cannabis sales or purchases. 

Also, since cannabis is federally illegal and the federal government controls 29% of D.C.’s total land area, it is illegal to possess cannabis in most District parks. 

This partial legalization has made the cannabis market in D.C. increasingly tricky to navigate, with many buyers/sellers coming up with loopholes to legally circumvent the system. This “Half Baked” episode from VICE’s, Weediquette explores how D.C. citizens make it work. 

At this point, as other states continue to legalize recreational marijuana, it is evident, within D.C., lawful sales won’t happen until permitted by the federal government. But, this last election D.C. did see the possession of magic mushrooms by adults decriminalized

Is Medical Marijuana legal in D.C.?

Yes. But it took 14 years from when the first ballot-initiative, *Initiative 59, was passed for patients to purchase medical cannabis in 2013 legally.

Initiative 59 first came about in 1998 was the voter-approved ballot that sought to legalized medical cannabis. Though the initiative was passed with almost 70% approval, Congress passed the Barr Amendment, which delayed the MMJ program’s start until 2009. 

Approved MMJ patients can purchase up to 2 oz. products per month. 

Are CBD products legal in D.C.? 

Yes. Since the passage of the Hemp Farming Act of 2018, hemp-derived CBD products are legal under federal law in the United States; as long as they contain at most 0.3% THC. 

Any and all CBD in food and drink is still federally illegal.

What’s D.C.’s recreational cannabis sales tax? 

There is no sales tax for recreational cannabis since it is not available for retail purchase in the district. 

What’s D.C.’s medical marijuana sales tax?

Medical marijuana is taxed at a special rate of 6%.

Is cannabis delivery legal in D.C?

Yes, for Medical Marijuana. Due to restrictions from the COVID-19 Pandemic, medical marijuana dispensaries are allowed to drop off treatment to patients who have been approved through the Health Department. Recreational sale and delivery is still illegal, while recreational use is not. 

District of Columbia’s Cannabis Timeline:

1937: The Marihuana (archaic spelling of Marijuana) Tax Act was enacted banning cannabis at the federal level. Medical Marijuana use was still permitted.

1951: The Boggs Act, Sponsored by Hale Boggs and signed into law under President Harry S. Truman, This act set mandatory sentencing and increased punishment for cannabis possession. 

1969: The Marihuana Tax Act is deemed unconstitutional in the landmark Leary v. United States. Timothy Leary, a professor, and activist was arrested for the possession of marijuana in violation of the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act. Leary then challenged the act on the ground that the act required self-incrimination, which violated his Fifth Amendment rights. (The self-incrimination clause provides various protections against self-incrimination, including the right of an individual to not serve as a witness in a criminal case in which they are the defendant, better known as “Pleading the Fifth.”) The unanimous opinion of the court was penned by Justice John Marshall Harlan II and declared the Marihuana Tax Act unconstitutional. Therefore, Leary’s conviction was overturned.

1970: The Controlled Substances Act is enacted (replacing the unconstitutional Marihuana Tax Act). Cannabis is classified as a Schedule I drug, determined to have a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use, thereby prohibiting its use for any purpose. This act was signed into law by President Richard Nixon. 

This legislation created five classifications, with specific qualifications for a substance to be included in each. The substances scheduling (classification) are determined by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Yet, Congress does have the power to schedule or de-schedule substances through legislation. Substance scheduling decisions are based on its potential for abuse, accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and international treaties.

Classification of Controlled Substances:

Schedule I: High potential of abuse, not acceptable for medical use

Schedule II: High potential of abuse, sometimes allowed with “severe restrictions” for medical use

Schedule II: Medium potential of abuse, acceptable for medical use

Schedule IV: Moderate potential of abuse, acceptable for medical use

Schedule V: Lowest potential of abuse, acceptable for medical use

1984-1986: Mandatory Sentencing and the three-strikes law were created under the Reagan Administration. This accounts for some of the harshest drug laws created, including mandatory 25-year imprisonment for certain drug offenses and the promotion of the death penalty to be used against “drug kingpins.”

1998: House Joint Resolution 117, encouraged by the passing of California’s Prop 215, the House of Representatives passed this measure to support the existing Federal legal process for determining the safety and efficacy of certain drugs.  

1998: Initiative 59, Legalization for Medical Treatment Initiative was the voter-approved ballot seeking to legalize medical cannabis. Though the initiative was passed with almost 70% approval, Congress passed the Barr Amendment, which delayed the MMJ program’s start until 2009. 

2010: Council of the District of Columbia passed a bill legalizing medical marijuana, which became legal on January 1, 2011.

2013: Overturning of The Barr Amendment prohibited DC from using its funds to support any medical marijuana program. This was the first year a DC medical marijuana customer legally purchased cannabis at a dispensary in the District. 

2014: The Rohrabacher–Farr Amendment passed in the U.S. House and signed into law prohibiting the Justice Department from interfering with the implementation of state medical cannabis laws.

2014: Initiative 71, Marks the legalization of non-commercial possession and cultivation of recreational marijuana in the District of Columbia.

2018: Farm bill legalizes low-THC hemp nationwide and effectively de-schedules hemp-derived cannabidiol (CBD) from the Controlled Substances Act.

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