After DC police raided the Chinatown and Adams Morgan locations of Capitol Hemp—a store that sells clothing and accessories made from hemp, plus pipes and papers that can be used for smoking, and other items—in October, all of the charges against the stores’ employees were dropped or diverted to drug-testing programs. But in December, the District charged Capitol Hemp owners Adam Eidinger and Alan Amsterdam with two counts each—one for each store—of selling drug paraphernalia, a crime punishable by six months in jail per count. The owners pleaded not guilty. Eidinger says that at a status hearing on January 4, the government was considering making a plea offer, but he plans to go to trial. “If we plead guilty to anything,” he says, “we’re out of business.”
“[Police stated] that undercover cops used bad language in the store referring to drug use and we let them do it,” Eidinger says . “But we don’t allow people to talk about illegal activity in the store. If you say you’re going to use a pipe to smoke pot, we ask you to leave immediately.”
The stores also sell books about marijuana, and Eidinger believes his merchandise was misconstrued as a result: “One book police pulled off the bookshelf and propped up on the counter as if to tell us they have a problem with it. The book was called Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal. Well, this book isn’t about drugs at all! It’s about farming.”
Because of the raids, DC attorney general Irvin Nathan sent a letter to Capitol Hemp’s Chinatown landlord. The letter was to serve as a “formal notice that your property is being used to facilitate illegal drug activities” and that “the property is having an adverse impact on the surrounding neighborhood.” It gave the real-estate company 14 days to “abate the above-described nuisances.”
Eidinger’s landlord initially filed eviction papers but, on a judge’s recommendation, dropped the action.
“We’ve never had a single incident,” Eidinger says. “The real crime is people drinking alcohol in the streets of Chinatown—liquor sold right next door to our store.”
A spokesperson for the DC police department says she “cannot comment on investigations,” and DC police chief Cathy Lanier has made no public comment about the raids other than a statement to WTOP that the police received “numerous complaints from the community.”
Because officers took Capitol Hemp’s database of purchases, the raid sent panicked customers—including some notable names—running for advice to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, a nonprofit based on K Street. “My phone lit up white-hot,” says executive director Allen St. Pierre. “If they used credit cards, there’s a clear trail.”
This story is a part of our in-depth coverage of Washington’s marijuana use.