If you’ve spent enough time in our great city, you may be wondering how to start a cannabis business in DC and any other ways you can get involved in our legal cannabis market. However, Washington DC has some of the most confusing cannabis laws in the country, and many entrepreneurs don’t know where to begin when it comes to starting a cannabis business in Washington, DC. If you have big dreams of being DC’s number one delivery service or smoke shop, check out our step-by-step guide to help you get involved and find great success in DC’s cannabis industry. Below you’ll find everything you need to know about starting a cannabis business in DC.
What are the laws for starting a cannabis business in DC?
Before we dive into all of the ways to start your own cannabis business in DC, you’ll first need to familiarize yourself with the laws. DC cannabis exists in a sort of legal gray-area. In 2014, Washington DC passed Initiative 71, also known as the Legalization of Possession of Minimal Amounts of Marijuana for Personal Use Act of 2014. In 2015, Initiative 71 went into full effect.
The initiative passed legislature that allows adults over age 21 to legally possess and use up to two ounces of marijuana in their home or on their private property. It also allows DC residents to cultivate their own cannabis for personal use. The plant count is capped at six plants with a limit to three mature flowering plants at a time.
There are still rules, though. For one thing, it’s illegal to possess or sell any amount of cannabis to or by people under the age of 21. You’re not allowed to consume cannabis products anywhere in public and are limited to smoking the stuff on private property. You can’t sell weed directly, or drive while under the influence. It’s also illegal to possess more than 2 ounces at a time.
Unlike most recreational cannabis initiatives, Initiative 71 does not allow for the sale of marijuana, so no dispensaries are operating in DC. The legislature leaves a bit of a grey area for cannabis, though, which is why so many smoke shops and delivery services are doing business in the DC area. Cannabis products can be traded or gifted but never purchased or sold directly. Many cannabis brands and smoke shops in DC get around this by selling a variety of products (like hats, stickers, art, smoke supplies, and t-shirts) or accepting charitable donations and gifting the cannabis with the purchase or donation for free.
Can anyone start a cannabis business in DC?
If you want to start a cannabis business in DC, you’ll need to have all of your ducks in a row, just like you would if you were starting any other business. You’ll want to consult a lawyer to help you come up with a complete business and financial plan for your company that will allow you to get the required licenses to operate in DC. For example, cannabis delivery services will likely need a transportation license. If you run a storefront, additional licensing will be necessary.
All in all, the cannabis industry in Washington, DC, is just like any other industry. Your background doesn’t matter, but you will need to have a business plan, a financial plan, and capital to start your venture. In the cannabis industry, you will also need to be over the age of 21 and follow all of the state and local laws regarding commerce, including licensing.
How to start a cannabis business in DC
Once you’ve spoken to a consultant or lawyer, accounted for the start-up costs, and figured out your licenses, you can dive right into the guide we’ve outlined below.
1. Get to know the laws
The first step involves familiarizing yourself with Washington DC’s Initiative 71. We outlined everything you need to know above, but be sure to read the full initiative as well as our resource that covers all the frequently asked questions surrounding it. Be sure to go over the laws with your lawyer when you discuss what you’d like to do within Washington DC’s cannabis industry.
The most crucial part of operating any business is maintaining compliance, especially in this industry where the legal gray area won’t protect you if you bend the rules. Staying educated and knowing the laws makes it possible for you to protect your rights and your customer’s rights.
2. Sharpen your skills
Everyone knows a thing or two about the cannabis industry. However, the most successful businesses are the ones that commit to a lifetime of learning and improvements. As any professional would want to master their craft, the same can be said for cannabis brands and businesses. A good rule of thumb is to try and be as proactive as possible. Educate yourself on cannabis and Washington DCs cannabis industry to become a skilled professional in your industry.
Businesses that make an effort to educate themselves, their staff, and their customers are always more successful than those who just sell weed. A great way to get started on refining your skills is to check out the resources available on 420DC or visit the Cannabis College through Green CultureED.
3. Identify your brand
Once you have the laws in mind and a good base knowledge of cannabis and DC’s legal weed industry, you can work on figuring out precisely what you want to do. You should look at other businesses, delivery services, smoke shops, and vendors in DC to help you determine what you can bring to the market. Starting here will help you assess the needs of the industry and come up with your business name and business model. Regardless of what you end up doing, you must focus on bringing consistency and quality to the market.
Everything you do here, in the beginning, will have long term consequences on your brand in the future, so make sure that whatever you bring to the table is something better than everything already out there.
4. Develop your brand
Once you have your brand identity in mind, you’ll want to start building the face of your brand from the ground up. You’ll want to start with a logo that expresses the look and feel you’re trying to convey with your brand. You’ll then use your new logo to develop a website that includes your contact information, products, mission statement, and values. You should also take care to set up your social media profiles, lead capturing data, and a Google My Business listing. All of these items are great for improving local SEO for your new brand and create a foundation for any successful cannabis vendors in DC.
5. List with 420DC and other listing sites to capture local customers
Local SEO is your best friend in Washington, DC’s cannabis industry. Since cannabis in surrounding states is illegal, DC’s market is one of a kind. Here, many companies find more success with local listings through DC directories and cannabis-centric directories. 420DC is the best option available for a listing site since it’s affordable and local to DC residents only.
Every day, 420DC showcases daily cannabis events that help draw attention to DC brands. Unlike listing sites like Where’s Weed DC or Weedmaps, 420DC can give you more bang for your buck by only showing your content to locals who want to check out local products and visit local events or storefronts. Best of all, you can plug in your NAP citations to your 420DC listing for a local SEO boost to your website.
6. Market your brand
We’ve written a few excellent guides on marketing cannabis businesses in DC, so be sure to check out our full write-up. To summarize, content marketing is one of the best and most cost-effective ways to market cannabis brands in Washington, DC. However, selling your brand also includes having a useful website, captivating social media profiles, text and email marketing campaigns, attending or hosting cannabis events, and merchandising effectively.
At the bare minimum, you need to flesh out email or SMS lists. Keeping your customers on an email list makes it possible for you to stay in contact and update your customers with company news and menu information. It’s also a great way to keep all of your customers in one place if your social profiles get pulled or deleted.
No matter what you do with your marketing, keep it friendly and professional. This is a service industry, after all. Ongoing relationships are crucial to cultivate, so share information and help others. They’ll return the favor by evangelizing your brand and encouraging other customers to give your business a try.
7. Stock up on products
Once you know what kind of business you want to operate (which you determined back in step 1), you can start the process of getting started. You’ll need to get a license from Washington DC to operate. The next step is getting your “for sale” products on display. Most businesses offer things like stickers, raffle tickets, and t-shirts. However, you can and should get creative with your product offerings. Some companies provide hand-made candles, paintings, bath bombs, and smoke shop essentials like rolling papers and trays. Be creative and sell products that reflect your business goals and branding that are unique to your company.
At first, many new cannabis businesses in DC stick to resale items they can buy in bulk, like dab rigs, pipes, and bongs. You can get a ton of these products at a significant discount through Green Goddess Supply.
8. Set up shop and develop marketing materials
If you’re opening a storefront or smoke shop, it’s a good idea to make your space reflect your branding. If you’re going for natural, stick to wood and natural lighting. If you’re going for modern, choose bright lights and smooth surfaces. You should offer marketing materials, including educational content and merchandise, that people will be happy to use, wear, or share.
To effectively merchandise your brand, think of all of the things that make your company unique. If you’re just operating as a delivery service, you should take care to create custom packaging materials, thank you cards, and stickers. You can create stickers out of your logo or slap your slogan onto hoodies. Marketing materials make for brand recognition, which can help you get more traffic to your store.
9. Attend events
In DC, the number one surefire way to get the attention to your amazing products and services is by getting valuable face time with your customers and other vendors by attending cannabis events here in the capital city. Once you have everything you need as far as your brand development, product offerings and merchandising goes, you can start meeting people.
You will need a few pieces of vital equipment to attend events successfully, though. We suggest a 4’ table, a display case for your products, magnifying glasses, jars, lights with bright white bulbs, a bong or dab rig, and of course, your merchandise. You can also spend a little on additional marketing materials to hand out at the event, like freebies, educational content, banners, and more. It’s essential to keep in mind though that most DC events are pay-to-play. You can expect to pay anywhere between $150-$500 per event.
10. Create relationships with others in DC’s cannabis industry
Once you’ve established your brand, you’ll need to continue nurturing it and nurturing your customers. You can use Facebook groups to connect with and build relationships with cannabis event hosts in DC as well as other vendors. You can also use sites like 420DC to check your reviews, answer customer messages, and communicate with people involved in DC’s cannabis industry at every level – from consumer to licensed cultivator.
How to start a cannabis business in DC with 420DC
Learning how to start a cannabis business in DC or opening a smoke shop in DC is easy when you choose 420DC. Our site makes it easy to capture local leads, advertise your business, learn how to become a certified cannabis professional, stock up on supplies, or take advantage of our marketing services. 420DC can help you take your brand from vision to reality. Just get in touch to get started.
420 DC also offers
- Vendor resources
- Marketing services
- Educational materials
- Business listings
- Event Information
- Cannabis deal and coupon listings
If you found this article helpful, please share it with others who are interested in becoming a cannabis vendor in DC.