If you’re traveling to D.C. or planning to shift there, you might be wondering: is weed legal in D.C.? If so, you’ve come to the right place.
In 1996, the state of California legalized the medical use of marijuana. Since then, the vast majority of US states have followed suit.
Because each state has different rules and regulations regarding the use and sale of marijuana, it can be challenging to determine where weed is legal—and where it isn’t.
Washington, D.C., functions under different laws than most states. Although weed is technically legal in the nation’s capital, there are important considerations to keep in mind before visiting or moving there.
Use this guide to marijuana laws in Washington, D.C. to determine how to best prepare for your next visit or move.
Legal Status of Marijuana in Washington, D.C.
Although marijuana has become legal in many states, marijuana remains a Schedule I controlled substance under the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Controlled Substances Act. As a result, the legislation surrounding marijuana use can be relatively murky.
Because Washington D.C. has a special status as the nation’s capital, it features particular location-specific laws which merit further attention.
As of 2023, possessing weed in Washington, D.C, is legal. However, there are other laws surrounding marijuana that are important to understand if you plan to travel there.
The use of medical marijuana is legal in Washington, D.C.
In 2010, the district passed The Legalization for Medical Treatment Amendment Act, which made it legal for both minors and adults to possess, purchase, use, and be prescribed cannabis for a medical condition.
The law maintains that persons with a prescription from a verified provider may purchase medical marijuana.
Though marijuana is legal, there are specific stipulations to this law. For example, the maximum amount of weed you can possess with a prescription is eight ounces. Plus, you can only administer medical cannabis in residence, a medical treatment facility, or a school where the participant is enrolled.
Lastly, patients must transport marijuana in an appropriately labeled sealed package and refrain from using heavy machinery or driving.
Registration Process for Patients
D.C.’s medical marijuana program is relatively simple. To register for the program, patients must visit a verified provider licensed for over two years. Then, they must complete a self-certification and a patient application before receiving approval.
If you plan to obtain a medical prescription for weed, you’ll need a qualifying condition or injury.
Medical Marijuana Dispensaries
Once you have your medical marijuana card, you can visit a qualifying dispensary in the D.C. area to pick up your marijuana. Consider approved dispensaries such as Budtenders of D.C. and Buddaflies.
It is legal to possess recreational marijuana in Washington, D.C.
Initiative 71 and Its Provisions
In 2015, district voters approved and passed Initiative 71, a law that was enacted in February 2015.
This law stipulates that it is legal for persons over 21 years of age to:
- Own two ounces or less of marijuana
- Send one ounce of weed or less to someone 21 years old as long as there is no exchange of payments, goods, or services.
- Cultivate 6 six marijuana plants, only three of which may be mature
- Possess marijuana-related paraphernalia
In Washington, D.C., it is only legal to possess up to two ounces of marijuana. You may transfer one ounce or less to another person of age if needed.
Additionally, you may have six marijuana plants at any given time, but only three can be mature.
Lastly, paraphernalia possession is legal in Washington, D.C.
It is important to note that you can only use marijuana on private property and must be a legal adult to purchase and use it. It is illegal to consume marijuana in public spaces, including outdoor areas.
Only individuals aged 21 or older may possess or use recreational marijuana in D.C. Minors, however, are allowed to use medical marijuana if they have a prescription from a verified doctor.
Sale and Distribution of Marijuana in Washington, D.C.
Sale and distribution are where laws become increasingly complex—particularly in D.C.
Although the sale and distribution of marijuana are technically legal, it requires an extensive series of permits and a lengthy verification process.
Consider the following points before deciding to use, sell, or distribute in Washington, D.C.
Medical Marijuana Sales
The sale of medical marijuana is legal in D.C., though businesses must undergo lengthy verification processes.
The dispensary registration process requires businesses to gain approval from the Department of Public Health. For starters, they must be non-profit organizations. Then, they must send their applications to the DPH, including an Application of Intent, a Management and Operation profile, and more.
To obtain medical marijuana in D.C., you’ll need a medical cannabis card. Following that, you’ll need to apply through a verified portal and await approval. A provider will assess your condition and can then send you the prescription to a dispensary.
There are few medical marijuana dispensaries in D.C., so you’ll have to search listings to find one in your area. Since D.C. has many medical marijuana patients, these dispensaries can get crowded.
Sales Tax and Pricing
Because there is a high sales tax on medical marijuana, finding prices that fit your budget can be difficult.
Prices for medical marijuana are generally higher than those for recreational use, so many patients have turned to the recreational market instead.
Since medical dispensaries are often crowded in D.C., several people choose to purchase from weed delivery services in the metro area.
Once you send your prescription, these establishments will deliver the weed right to your door.
Recreational Marijuana Sales
Unfortunately, it is not legal to sell and distribute marijuana for recreational purposes in Washington, D.C.
Although recreational use has been decriminalized, you may not exchange weed for any type of payment, including an exchange of services.
Thankfully, Washington, D.C., has many excellent legal dispensaries and delivery services.
Grey Market and Its Implication
The gray market consists of the trading of a commodity through unofficial channels. In Washington, D.C., a gray market has started to creep up around marijuana. As of late, the capital has witnessed a rise in the number of unofficial pop-up shops, trucks, and other unverified vendors of recreational marijuana.
Additionally, some businesses today gift small amounts of marijuana to accompany other purchases.
Unfortunately, the gray market is not regulated, so you never know what you’ll get. For this reason, it’s best to stick to official distribution channels.
It is legal to gift up to one ounce of marijuana in Washington, D.C., as long as you meet the provisions outlined by D.C. law.
As a result, many shop owners and independent sellers have begun gifting small amounts of weed to their patrons. And yes, it is legal to accept such gifts.
Current Efforts to Establish a Legal Market
In 2022, the D.C. Council established a path to legalization for gray market vendors. Although the bill has yet to be signed into law, it is likely to do so.
Several groups are also advocating this issue, including the I-71 Committee and Generational Equity Movement, led by gift shop owners and unofficial vendors. These groups aim to bridge the legal gaps, helping thousands render their businesses legal.
Marijuana Laws and Regulations
Marijuana laws and regulations are notoriously complex throughout the United States.
There are different laws regarding the use of marijuana and its sale and distribution, and Washington, D.C., has an exceptionally complex situation given its emerging gray market.
Although marijuana use has been decriminalized nationally, it remains a Schedule I drug, and D.C., after all, is the nation’s capital.
Federal Law vs. Local Law
Under the Federal Controlled Substances Act, marijuana is a Schedule I drug and therefore, strictly regulated by federal authorities.
In 2022, the federal government moved to decriminalize cannabis. With the introduction of the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvest and Expungement Act, the federal government purports to remove weed from the list of Schedule I drugs.
This would allow businesses to operate across the country and establish a fund to support people impacted by the war on drugs. In addition, it would introduce a new tax on cannabis and make SBA loans available to cannabis-related industries.
The government introduced this bill following the rapid decriminalization of cannabis in many states nationwide, including Washington, D.C.
In D.C., it is legal to sell, distribute, and possess medical marijuana with proper licensing. Additionally, it is permitted to have under two ounces of recreational marijuana if you are over the age of 21. You can also grow six marijuana plants, though half must be immature.
There are additional stipulations governing these laws as well. For example, selling recreational marijuana without a license remains illegal, so many people resort to gifting small amounts under one ounce.
Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana
It is illegal to drive under the influence of marijuana in Washington, D.C., and across the country.
Those driving under the influence are subject to charges and may receive a DUI. The penalties are the same for driving high as for driving drunk.
Typically, a first offense comes with a penalty of up to $1,000 and 180 days in jail. D.C. has no felony DUI charge, so you won’t have to worry about that.
Remember that the open container law still applies, so burning in your car isn’t the best move.
Employment and Marijuana Use
D.C. does not require employers to allow employees to use cannabis in any form.
However, in 2022, the Marijuana Employment Protections Act was introduced. It stipulates that employers may not fire or otherwise punish any employees who might be using marijuana—even if they test positive.
The law does not mandate employers to allow employees to use cannabis at work, so be sure to keep this in mind.
D.C. is an employment-at-will state, which means an employer may terminate the employee’s job at any time.
Marijuana Use in Public Housing
Using marijuana in public housing is illegal in most states.
Residents of public housing in Washington D.C. may face eviction for using marijuana at home—even if they have a medical permit.
For this reason, it’s best to avoid using marijuana in D.C. public housing.
Traveling With Marijuana
If you plan to travel to D.C. or out of the state, you might be curious to know if you can bring cannabis across state lines.
Unfortunately, it is illegal to travel with cannabis, even in the United States. And though laws may differ in other places, you can’t leave the country with it either.
As more states pass laws legalizing marijuana, many wonder if they can travel with it.
Because federal law classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug, crossing state lines is not permitted.
Federal Law on Transporting Marijuana Across State Lines
Although you may be traveling to and from states where marijuana is legal, you cannot cross state lines with it.
First, marijuana remains illegal on a national scale. Although the government continues to allow states to pass their laws, interstate commerce remains regulated by the federal government.
Additionally, laws differ across states, so while you might be able to legally own recreational marijuana in one state, you may not be able to in another.
Potential Legal Consequences
Individuals who cross state lines with marijuana may face federal criminal prosecution.
Crossing state lines technically counts as trafficking drugs, so you would be subject to the same penalties. The minimum for drug trafficking is five years in prison; fines can amount to 5 million dollars.
Although many countries permit the legal use of marijuana, you may not be able to travel with weed when crossing customs.
Consider the following points before making your decision.
U.S. Customers and Border Protection Policies
According to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency, it is illegal to cross the U.S. border with any amount of marijuana.
Even with a medical card, you cannot leave the country with weed—regardless of the amount.
Those found responsible for transporting marijuana outside the country may be subject to seizure, search, arrest, or fines.
If you are not from the United States, you risk deportation or being denied admission.
Traveling to Countries With Legal Marijuana
There are many countries where it is legal to own and sell marijuana.
However, you won’t be able to leave the country with it, nor can you bring it back.
If you travel to Amsterdam, you can enjoy it as much as you like, but be sure to leave it there.
Medical Research and Public Health
Considering the amount of attention that weed is receiving nationally, there is ample research on the benefits and risks of using marijuana.
Many studies detailing the effects of marijuana on physical and mental health and reports have explained the impact of weed.
Current Research on the Benefits and Risks of Marijuana Use
There is ample research on both the risks and benefits of marijuana use.
Studies have found that weed benefits include:
- Pain management
- Treatment for medical conditions, including epilepsy, cancer, multiple sclerosis, and more
- Relief from anxiety, stress, and depression
The most common risks associated with marijuana are:
- Legal implications
- The potential for addiction
- Impaired memory
- Lung damage from smoking flower
Marijuana and Mental Health
The effects of marijuana on mental health have been documented numerous times in scientific research.
Countless people use weed to manage anxiety, stress, and depression. Additionally, some find that weed helps with ADHD and other disorders.
However, the CDC maintains that people with schizophrenia or psychosis should not use marijuana, as it can exacerbate the effects of these conditions and induce early onset.
Effects of Marijuana on Physical Health
Marijuana has been found to help:
- Reduce inflammation
- Lower blood pressure
- Treat anxiety disorders
- Prevent seizures
- Support patients with anorexia or gastrointestinal disorders
- And more!
There are few documented effects of marijuana on physical health.
However, smoking weed can irritate your lungs and lead to infections and illnesses common to all smokers.
For this reason, it’s often best to use non-irritating cannabis products, such as gummies and tinctures.
Marijuana Use During Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
Research from the CDC determines that it is unsafe for pregnant women to use marijuana in any form while pregnant.
Children born from mothers using weed are likely to have lower birth weight and abnormalities in neurological development.
Secondhand smoke is also not advised.
Future of Marijuana Legalization in Washington D.C.
As public perception of marijuana continues to evolve, many states are changing their laws.
Read on to learn more about the future of marijuana legislation in Washington, D.C.
Potential Changes to Existing Laws and Regulations
There is currently a federal bill that aims to decriminalize marijuana and remove it from the list of Schedule I substances.
However, this bill has yet to pass into law and has only made it through the House thus far.
In Washington, D.C., there is a pending bill that would legitimize the sale of marijuana and bring the gray market into the legal cannabis market. The bill would also provide reparations for criminalization victims but has not yet been passed into law.
Advocacy Efforts for Further Reform
Several groups aim to reform cannabis laws in D.C. and around the country.
In D.C., the I-71 Committee and Generational Equity Movement, led by gift shop owners and unofficial vendors, aims to legitimize the gray market, bringing vendors into the fold.
Americans for Safe Access also aims to fight for medical cannabis to remain available in D.C. and other areas.
These groups aim to bridge the gaps in legalization, helping thousands officially render their businesses legal.
Economic Impact of Marijuana Legislation
Further legalization may seem reasonable, but it can have varied impacts on the economic health of the state and its inhabitants.
Most businesses that will become legal will likely have to pay relatively high fees for participation in the market, and they will also face taxes from the state.
Currently, cannabis businesses are not eligible for SBA loans or other governmental assistance, which could cause further issues.
However, the impact of marijuana legislation is edging in the right direction, providing more vendors with the chance to participate in this booming industry.
Although medical and recreational marijuana use and sale are legal in Washington D.C., there are many provisions to this law.
Use this guide to determine how best to light up in the nation’s capital—and stay safe!