The city's drug paraphernalia law is confusing, because it allows for the sale of certain merchandise--for example, pipes and "water pipes"--but the operation becomes suspect if the police believe the items are used in an illegal way. This becomes more interesting as DC is about to begin dispensing medical marijuana. In an interview this week, the city's "weed czar," Department of Health head Dr. Mohammed Akhter, said he expects the still-to-be-named legal marijuana dispensaries could be in business by August.
Today we caught up with Adam Eidinger, who's still quite upset about the fate of his stores.
What happened to you and your business?
We were raided in October. Both stores. All our employees were arrested, but their charges were eventually dropped and dismissed. But my partner, Alan Amsterdam, and I were charged with sale of drug paraphernalia. They took $350,000 of our merchandise out of the stores and held it as evidence. The retail value is double that amount. We had been in business four years. We ended up building an extensive clientele of artisan glass collectors. We're the best source of hemp clothing on the East Coast.
Were you locked up?
No. First we went through a series of hearings, four in all. The government kept saying they wanted to make a deal. The US Attorney's Office handles all drug cases in DC because they don't trust the local prosecutors. Alan and I were put on probation, basically going through the system. I was looking forward to a trial because we were innocent. We operate a tobacco shop. You can go to other tobacco shops and buy pipes and you are not going to get arrested. We were very strict.
Did the police believe you sold marijuana at the store?
Yes. But they didn't find any. What they found was that one employee in each store had a trace amount of cannabis on their person or in their bags.
Did you ever sell marijuana through the store?
No. Do you think I'm crazy? I'm not crazy.
What happened this week in court?
We're being forced to shut down. On Monday we agreed to a deal that we would get our property back in 48 hours--which the government has not done--and in four months we close the stores permanently. Just the stores, not our business. That's what we're going to do. We'll return our property to the vendors.
Why aren't you going to trial?
We'd be bankrupted by the government even if we won. The US attorney would put the property in forfeiture, and under those circumstances no pipe shop like ours has ever gotten its property back. I can't do that. I have a family. I have a PR firm, Mintwood Media.
Do you find it ironic that you are being closed down at approximately the same time Washington is about to begin cultivating and dispensing medical marijuana?
Yes. We are actually applicants for licenses as cultivators and dispensers.
The chosen cultivation center applicants have been named. Are you still contenders for a dispensary license?
Yes, but we're much more inclined to do a ballot initiative in 2013. We need to have patients' rights. Let's force an election on this. This city should be giving rights to every citizen, without a doctor's recommendation.
How do you think medical marijuana will do as a program in Washington?
The distributors who get licenses from the city are going to fail. I hope I'm wrong. But the economics of this city and the limitations on quantity and the absurd fees are setting it up to fail. The license fees are three times what they charge for liquor licenses.
Do you have a medical marijuana card?
I have a doctor's recommendation.
For what ailment?
I have arthritis in my knee.
Would you qualify for medical marijuana by the DC standards?
No. I would not. My condition is not on the list. That's why it's a joke.
So, what does the future hold?
We want to save our store, but I don't think there's any way out of this. If they give us our property back we have no choice but to close. Couldn't they have done a compliance check? Couldn't they have done that first? But no. "You have to close." It's political.