Inspections of Washington, D.C. ‘Gifting’ Shops Put on Pause

The delay has added more confusion to Washington D.C.’s under-the-table businesses.
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Planned inspections of Washington, D.C.’s unlicensed cannabis retailers have reportedly been delayed.

The inspections, which were announced last month by the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration, were designed to ensure the businesses “abide by the regulatory requirements of DC Health, the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA), the District of Columbia Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department (FEMS), and the Office of Tax and Revenue (OTR).”The inspections, which were announced last month by the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration, were designed to ensure the businesses “abide by the regulatory requirements of DC Health, the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA), the District of Columbia Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department (FEMS), and the Office of Tax and Revenue (OTR).”

But the DCist reports that officials are “delaying plans to inspect the city’s many marijuana gifting stores this week, deepening the confusion around the maybe-legal, maybe-not industry that continues to grow across the city.”

The outlet, citing a source familiar with the situation, said that law enforcement officials “had raised concerns about the protocol for inspecting the stores, and what would happen if inspectors found weapons or other illicit items.”

The inspections were scheduled to begin after Labor Day.

Voters in the nation’s capital approved a ballot initiative in 2014 that legalized recreational cannabis, but due to an arcane provision that gives Congress oversight over its laws, the sale of pot remains prohibited in D.C.

Since that vote eight years ago, every appropriations bill passed by Congress has contained what is known as the “Harris Rider,” named Maryland Republican Congressman Andy Harris, which prohibits Washington, D.C. from commercializing recreational cannabis.

Democrats on Capitol Hill flirted with the idea of removing the Harris Rider from the latest spending bill when it released a draft of the legislation last fall.

But by March of this year, the final version of the bill included the Harris Rider, much to the chagrin of cannabis reform advocates in D.C.

“Congress needs to step out of this,” Phil Mendelson, the chair of the D.C. City Council, said in March. “It perpetuates the current lawless situation in the city.”

That has not stopped a number of intrepid business owners in Washington, D.C. from finding a workaround to the ban.

The city has a number of illicit retailers that sell cannabis through the practice of “gifting,” through which a customer pays for an item such as a t-shirt, and is in turn provided with a “gift” of cannabis.

Gifting has become so ubiquitous––and popular––in Washington, D.C. that some policymakers and industry officials have expressed concerns that it is chewing into the margins of legal, medical cannabis operations, with patients opting to go the illicit route instead of filling out tedious paperwork.

“The medical side are struggling on the brink of existence, while the illegal side has only grown more rapidly,” Mendelson said in April.

That month, the D.C. Council rejected a proposal that would have imposed harsh fines on “gifting” retailers.

A couple months later, the council passed a different measure that was also proposed with an eye toward buttressing the city’s beleaguered medical cannabis retailers. Under the new ordinance, which was signed into law by Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser in July, medical cannabis patients in the city are now allowed to “self-certify” their qualifications for the treatment, which will enable them to bypass a doctor.

“We have made it a priority over the years to build a more patient-centric medical marijuana program and this legislation builds on those efforts,” Bowser said in a statement. “We know that by bringing more medical marijuana patients into the legal marketplace in a timely manner and doing more to level the playing field for licensed medical marijuana providers, we can protect residents, support local businesses, and provide clarity to the community.”

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