Addressing the elephant in the room

Cannabis “souvenir” in D.C unique way of selling pot

cannabis

It’s hard to justify $45 for a simple cotton shirt but a customer at Washington D.C’s Adams Morgan neighborhood does so without question. The clerk grabs a clear plastic bag containing about one gram of cannabis (marijuana) and drops it into the bag, reciting a practiced line: Thank you and here’s a gift for you as a souvenir.”

Another satisfied customer in the so-called District of Cannabis, it is a unique approach to legalization.

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A  2014 ballot initiative to  legalize recreational use of cannabis overwhelmingly. But in typical Washington D.C. style the initiative also made it still illegal to buy or sell the drug. So instead of thriving storefronts and cannabis vending machines that are common in Colorado or Nevada D.C has developed a thriving “gift economy” cannabis industry. With businesses offering everything from overpriced coffee to pottery with “something extra. It is a legal tightrope that the District’s politicians and police continue to tolerate.

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“It’s definitely unique”,“said Morgan Fox of the pro-legalization Marijuana Policy Project. “The DC city council and the city government don’t want to be busting people for weed. They want this to work and work smoothly.”

Politics is a different beast in DC. All District laws are subject to review by a congressional committee, which can veto them or attach riders. After the initiative passed Representative  Andy Harris, a Republican from Maryland, introduced a rider prohibiting the District from spending any funds or resources on developing a regulatory or taxation system for cannabis sales.

“I think the District of Columbia made a bad decision,” Harris said in an interview. “I would hope the District comes to its senses and realizes the dangers.” Harris an opponent of the bill had hoped to slow sales. However the ease of availability without risking arrest has created a thriving cannabis market.

It remains illegal to smoke pot in public. Arrest for public consumption have spiked since the initiative started. The police have monitored things going too far. In 2015 they arrested “kush God” Cunningham who had deployed a fleet of cars covered in marijuana-leaf decals that would hand out pot edibles in exchange for “donations

covered in marijuana-leaf decals that would hand out pot edibles in exchange for “donations.”

“Police maintain that the gift loophole isn’t fooling anyone. The District is missing out on an estimated $130 million in potential revenue from taxing cannabis sales.

“I don’t think it’s sustainable,” said City Council Chairman Phil Mendelson. “We have legal marijuana but we can’t regulate it. It’s stupid, it’s just stupid.” And if there is one thing DC politicians like to do it is to regulate.

 

 

 

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