News & Politics

In This Issue: On Washington’s Pot Culture

Editor Garrett M. Graff gets blunt about the marijuana-focused cover story of February’s “The Washingtonian,” on newsstands today.

Our new February issue, out today, tackles the thorniest subject in US drug policy: marijuana, particularly in the past decade, which has seen the nation, state by state, lurch toward decriminalization and outright legalization. Denver and California now seem to have marijuana openly for sale on nearly every corner.

Sometime this spring, DC plans to become the latest jurisdiction—joining 16 other states—to introduce “legal” marijuana into the city for medical purposes, bringing “legal” cultivation centers and dispensaries to the city and potentially moving DC to the forefront of the national debate on marijuana, as dispensaries openly advertise just blocks from the Capitol and the White House.

The federal government hasn’t eased up in the same way—meaning that DC cultivation centers and dispensaries, while legal under local laws, could still be subject to federal prosecution. I’ll be interested to see how the issue gets treated on Capitol Hill, which rarely resists an opportunity to comment on DC affairs. DC itself is figuring out how to handle this huge change in public policy: Earlier this month, the Council passed emergency legislation to ensure that Ward 5 in Northeast wasn’t overrun by weed.

But what really interested us was how prevalent marijuana already was in the Washington area. Our lead story follows an upper-middle-class baker, not unlike Nancy Botwin of Weeds, on her rounds through Washington delivering to upscale clients.

Now, I’ve never smoked marijuana—I’ll admit that up front—though my reasons have less to do with some high moral principle and more to do with the fact that in college I was contemplating going into government and wanted to make sure I could pass a background check. (My boss—our owner—is another story. Ask her sometime why she’s banned from Canada.)

Yet I seem to be more of the exception in this town than the rule. DC leads the nation in per capita marijuana arrests. Even in tony areas of the District, like Ward 3, the rate of DC residents report using marijuana within the past month is 8 percent (nearly double that of neighboring Montgomery County).

Ward 1, which includes U Street, Adams Morgan, and Columbia Heights—as well as some of the most expensive real estate in the city—has the highest marijuana use of any corner in the city, at 11.4 percent. Such prevalence raises challenges for parents today who used the drug during the ’60s and ’70s (and might still) and yet today discourage their own children from doing so.

Beyond pot use by affluent Washingtonians, Tevi Troy in the February issue examines how the nation’s politics lurched so quickly from “Just Say No” under President Reagan to President Clinton’s “I didn’t inhale” to Barack Obama’s “I inhaled—that was the point.” We also have several other stories looking at the medical debates around marijuana.

Let me know what you think of our cover story, either by leaving comments here or by e-mailing me at ggraff AT washingtonian DOT com.


Garrett M. Graff


PS: If you look closely at our cover, you’ll notice an embarrassing typo: We misspelled February phonetically as “Feburary.” I’ve asked our designer not to eat any more brownies while he works on the cover—although it’s an error that’s evidently been made some 12 million times before.

For some of the other best journalism errors of the past year, read Poynter’s funny roundup. My favorite? Rachael Ray cooking her dog.