News & Politics

What Marijuana Legalization Would Mean in DC

A look at Washington's evolving relationship with weed.

Photograph by David Mala/Getty Images.

Whether Initiative 71, November’s ballot question legalizing marijuana, passes—as polls indicate it will—or goes up in smoke, DC’s relationship with pot is evolving. Here’s how legalization would work if the referendum passes.

Not for sale: Legalization covers only personal use, not retail sales, as in Colorado and elsewhere. You can share pot with friends and family, but charging them is still illegal. Don’t rip up your business plan, however: DC Council member David Grosso has drafted legislation to establish a regulated and taxed marijuana retail market.

21 means 21: Legalization applies only to people 21 and older. An 18-year-old caught with up to an ounce gets hit with a $25 fine.

5 percent: The likely percentage of US representatives who toke, according to Colorado Democratic congressman Jared Polis. This presumably excludes Representative Andy Harris, a Maryland Republican and a physician who attempted to derail the decriminalization law and may try to foil the initiative.

Medical marijuana: Dispensaries won’t be affected by Initiative 71—patients won’t likely have the know-how to grow their own supply. And don’t expect freebies. “It’s medicine, and just like pharmaceuticals, it’s not a good idea to give meds away to somebody,” says Jeffrey Kahn, owner of the Takoma Wellness Center.

$26.5 million: The estimated cost of enforcing DC’s marijuana laws in 2010, according to FBI data. “Our police resources will be used more wisely,” says Paul Zukerberg, a lawyer and a candidate for DC attorney general.

Don’t light up on federal land: Like decriminalization, which went into effect in DC in July, legalization doesn’t apply in the 21.6 percent of the city owned by Uncle Sam, where you’ll be charged by the US Attorney.

Magic numbers: Anyone 21 or older may possess up to two ounces. Residents may have six plants in their homes (only half of them “mature”) and sell pot-related paraphernalia.

8.05 African-Americans: The number of black people arrested in DC for marijuana for each white person caught, even though white and black people use marijuana at roughly equal rates.

This article appears in the November 2014 issue of Washingtonian.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.