News & Politics

Capitol Hemp to Close September 7

Owner Adam Eidinger talks about his ongoing legal issues and medical marijuana in DC.

Adam Eidinger stands in front of his soon-to-close Adams Morgan shop. Photograph by Ben Droz.

“I’m being driven out of town.” That’s the lament of
Adam Eidinger, standing on the steps of his basement Adams Morgan shop, Capitol Hemp, in front
of the big plastic sign that announces “store closing.” He’s frustrated and angry
about the events of the past several months that got him to this point, and a closing
date of September 7, but he’s mindful of the authorities. He doesn’t want to say or
do anything that would upset the police or the courts. His partner,
Alan Amsterdam, is even more cautious; he won’t agree to talk on the record or be photographed.

It’s been like this for Eidinger and Amsterdam since last October, when the police
raided their 18th Street store and another one at Fifth and H streets in Chinatown.
The stores boasted “the highest-quality products made from industrial hemp” and an
extensive collection of “artisan” glass water pipes and cigarette papers. The police
saw it another way.

All the employees were arrested in the raid, though charges against them were later
dropped. Only Eidinger and Amsterdam were charged under DC’s drug paraphernalia law,
and they’ve been in and out of the courts since, trying to come to an agreement with
the US Attorney’s Office, which handles Washington drug cases. When Eidinger last
went to court, he says, the judge dismissed the charges against him. But Amsterdam
has a court date on September 13—by which point, Eidinger says, there will be no more
Capitol Hemp.

What Eidinger wants is for the prosecutor to abide by an agreement made with his lawyers
to give back the cash and merchandise seized in the raid, amounting to about $3,800
and some cigarette papers. A lot more was seized, he says, “but it’s now damaged or
missing.” He puts the value at tens of thousands of dollars. “Water pipes we sell
that were very rare were destroyed. Dozens of large glass pipes were destroyed. They
were works of art. One retailed for $6,000.”

Eidinger is bitter because he feels he and Amsterdam kept to their part of the deal—to
eventually close the stores. The Chinatown store is already closed. “We did all our
community service, 32 hours,” he says. “From our perspective, we kept to the spirit
of the agreement. It seems the government has fallen through, but we don’t want to
argue this out in court. We want to avoid a trial.”

In an earlier interview with
The Washingtonian,
Eidinger made it clear that Capitol Hemp did not dispense marijuana. “Do you think
I’m crazy? I’m not crazy,” he said. But today he appreciates the irony that Washington
is slowly moving toward the opening of medical marijuana dispensaries, though the
program has hit a variety of snags and delays. “I hope the program gets off the ground,”
he says. “But it was set up by someone who doesn’t know anything about cannabis, [at-large
City Council member] David Catania. We need a medical marijuana patients’ rights law.”

Eidinger is among those who applied to the DC
Department of Health to win one of the
few licenses for marijuana grow centers and dispensaries, but
he did not make the
cut. The five designated cultivation centers were announced in
the spring, and in
July the city named the four official dispensaries, but an
official start date for
the program has yet to be announced. The delays, according to
officials, stem from
the licensing process and construction issues.

“There could be a lawsuit against DC for the delays and costs,” says Eidinger. “We
have the largest per-capita marijuana use of any East Coast city. Tons of it is being
provided by the black market. Most of the high grade sold in DC is coming from the
West Coast. The low grade is still coming from Mexico.” He wonders if the delay in
medical marijuana implementation has to do in some part with the power of the black
market, which he would like to see thwarted. “If [DC] would just implement the program
that is on the books, we would have medical marijuana for those who need it and no
one would have to go to jail.” Eidinger says he has a doctor’s recommendation to use
medical marijuana to treat the pain from arthritis in his knee.

Eidinger, who also has a public relations business, is philosophical about not being
in the medical marijuana business. “Looking at all the delays there have been, we
would have spent $150,000 by now, with nothing.”

The future? “It’s really tough for me. I’d really like to keep a hemp store in DC,
for the clothing. But my partner has talked about going to the suburbs.”