(Last Updated On: January 31, 2023)

Voters in Colorado and Washington supported initiatives to make the recreational use and sale of cannabis legal on election day in 2012, making those two states the first in the nation to do so. In the following ten years, despite the fact that marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, 19 other states, Washington, D.C., and Guam would legalize the drug.

The history of legalizing weed in DC

Initiative 71, a ballot initiative that legalized the possession and production of small amounts of marijuana for individuals 21 years of age and older, was decisively approved by D.C. voters in November 2014.

A rider in the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2015, introduced by Congressional Republicans a few weeks after the marijuana ballot initiative passed and attempted to invalidate the law by prohibiting the District of Columbia from using any funds to enact marijuana-related legislation, was an attempt to do just that. According to federal law, the Council (think of it as the equivalent of D.C. ‘s state legislature) and any referendum proposition that receives voter approval are subject to congressional review before becoming law. Additionally, the District’s budget remains under the control of Congress. Therefore, if Congress wants to have an impact on District matters, it typically does so by amending unrelated pieces of legislation, like spending bills.

Mayor Muriel Bowser and the District’s attorney general both stated, however, that the Congressional rider would not stop the legalization of weed in DC, which was passed and confirmed by the Board of Elections prior to Congress passing the funding package.

Consequences of the law on the weed market in DC

The District inherited a “gray market” where local companies started participating in “gifting economy,” which is selling unrelated goods at inflated costs and including marijuana as a free gift as part of the deal. Initiative 71’s clause that allows those over 21 to “transfer without payment (but not sell) up to one ounce of marijuana to another person over 21 years of age” gave rise to this legally dubious business model.

As a result, while marijuana-related arrests stopped happening in the nation’s capital (which is especially good news given a 2013 report by the American Civil Liberties Union that revealed D.C. had one of the highest arrest rates of any county in the country, with blacks being 9 times more likely to be arrested than whites), the District was forced to deal with an unregulated, legally ambiguous market where the commercial sale of marijuana is prohibited.

The Comprehensive Cannabis Legalization and Regulation Act of 2021, a comprehensive bill that, if passed as currently written, would create a comprehensive regulatory framework for the production and sale of recreational marijuana, as well as address social equity by repairing the harm caused by previous criminal enforcement, investing in the communities most harmed by the drug war, and other measures, was recently introduced by District lawmakers in an effort to address this ongoing problem. Since the bill’s presentation on March 1, nothing has been done.

The District has not yet passed any rules or regulations pertaining to hemp, therefore neither the production of hemp nor that of products derived from hemp, such as the sale of cannabidiol, are authorized nor regulated by it (CBD). Despite the noticeable prevalence of “CBD stores” across the city, these items are illegal.

Can anyone purchase marijuana or other narcotics in DC?

All adults are allowed to keep up to two ounces of marijuana for recreational purposes, together with any related accessories. Up to six plants may be grown by residents at home, however only three of those plants may be mature.

The Entheogenic Plants and Fungus Policy Act, also known as Initiative 81, was approved by voters in the 2020 election. The policy designates local law enforcement as having the “lowest enforcement priority” when it comes to policing psychedelic (also known as entheogenic) drugs.

DC recreational marijuana laws

The DC Council legalized marijuana in 2014. Possession of up to one ounce was previously subject to a $25 fine.

Residents approved Initiative 71, the 2014 Legalization of Possession of Minimal Amounts of Marijuana for Personal Use Initiative, later that same year. With about two thirds of the vote, it was approved. Adults were allowed to own, cultivate, and provide recreational marijuana. The regulation became effective in 2015.

How to buy weed in DC

In DC, there are numerous “gifting” dispensaries that sell marijuana. These firms contend that they are abiding by the law if they charge you for a little present—like a sticker or article of clothing—and then toss in the marijuana “free of charge” because giving marijuana as a gift is lawful in the District. The DC Council tried—but failed—to adopt an emergency bill in April 2022 to close these firms. Most certainly, they’ll try again.

DC medical marijuana laws

Through Initiative 59, people of DC decided to legalize medical marijuana in 1998. However, Congressman Bob Barr (R) of Georgia swiftly used the controversial Barr Amendment to prevent DC from enacting the programme.

The amendment made it unlawful to “conduct any ballot initiative which seeks to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties associated with the possession, use, or distribution of any Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act or any tetrahydrocannabinol derivative.” It was tacked onto the Omnibus Consolidated and Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act. The restriction was finally lifted by Congress in 2009.

The Legalization of Marijuana for Medical Treatment Amendment Act was approved by the DC Council in 2010. It created rules for dispensaries and clarified the legislation’s provisions from 1998. For medical patients, the law set a two-ounce possession restriction.

It wasn’t until 2013 that the first medical dispensary opened.

Any disease that a doctor thinks could be treated with medical marijuana is now eligible for a medical card under the Medical Marijuana Expansion Emergency Amendment Act of 2014.

Initiative 71, a ballot measure legalizing marijuana for recreational use, was approved in 2015. Patients may cultivate a total of six plants, including a maximum of three mature ones.

Patients from other states with comparable medical marijuana systems were able to utilize their identification cards at DC dispensaries as of 2017, thanks to the Medical Marijuana Reciprocity Amendment Act of 2015, which went into force.

DC started to recognise medical marijuana cards from any other state in 2019.

Qualifying conditions for medical marijuana in DC

Any ailment that a doctor determines may benefit from medical marijuana is qualified, according to the Medical Marijuana Expansion Emergency Amendment Act of 2014.

DC medical marijuana card application process

In Washington, DC, speaking with a doctor, physician’s assistant, nurse practitioner, or dentist is the initial step in obtaining a card. Residents of DC may receive recommendations from these medical specialists allowing them to buy medical marijuana from District dispensaries legally. Applying online is possible through DC Health.

You’ll get a recommendation number as part of the application process. Next, send a patient application to the Department of Health with that information in hand. You will want a recommendation number from the doctor you spoke with. The application also requires a headshot, a photo ID, and two types of residency documentation. Additionally, there is a $100 application fee, though low-income applicants may be eligible for a $25 price reduction.

Does DC accept medical cards from other states?

Patients from any state with a medicinal marijuana programme may utilize their cards at a DC dispensary beginning in August 2019.

When does your medical card for DC expire?

An email from a DC Department of Health communications staffer to Leafly stated that medical marijuana registrations must be renewed annually.

DC marijuana cultivation laws

Anyone over the age of 21 may produce up to six plants altogether at home, with only three at a mature stage at any given time, according to the Legalization of Possession of Minimal Amounts of Marijuana for Personal Use Initiative of 2014. For the entire home, people who live together may grow up to 12 plants, six of which may be mature.

DC regulations on consumption

In Washington, DC, public use is still prohibited. On its website, the Metropolitan Police Department makes it quite clear that it is unlawful to use marijuana in any way, including holding or carrying lit cigarettes, lit rolls of paper, or other lighted smoking apparatus that include marijuana.

According to district law, it is still illegal to consume alcohol in public and is subject to up to a $500 fine and 60 days in jail.

Penalties may differ technically since some parts of Washington, DC, are federal property.

In reality, consuming in public will cost you $25. As an alternative, violators may decide to go to court in accordance with the mayor’s office’s 2018 policy guidelines.

DC marijuana DUI laws

Anyone who operates a vehicle in DC voluntarily consents to a chemical test. A driver must be warned that their license will be suspended for a year if they refuse to take the exam. In a court of law, evidence of a refusal to take a test may be used to prove guilt.

A qualified Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) may give standardized field sobriety tests (SFSTs), which include breathalyzers, urine tests, and blood tests (must be administered by a medical professional at the request of law enforcement).


  • First offense: No more than 90 days in jail, a $3,000 fine, or both; a six-month driver’s license suspension
  • Second offense: five days’ minimum jail time, up to a year’s maximum, a fine between $1,000 and $5,000, or both, and a year’s suspension of your driver’s license.
  • Third and subsequent offenses: minimum 10-day imprisonment up to one year, fines ranging from $2,000 to $10,000, or both, and a two-year driver’s license suspension

Regulations for cannabis testing in DC

DC law requires that a number of tests be performed on all medical marijuana, including those for moisture content, water activity, terpene and cannabinoid levels (THC, THCA, CBD, CBDA, CBN), foreign matter contamination, microbial and/or mycotoxin contamination, heavy metals (arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury), pesticide and/or fertilizer residue, residual solvents, and homogeneity (for edibles). Legal “gifting shops” are not required to test their goods.

To sum it up

Adults over 21 in Washington are permitted to purchase and possess up to an ounce of marijuana, 16 ounces of solid delicacies infused with marijuana, 72 ounces of liquid items infused with marijuana, and 7 grammes of marijuana concentrates. Marijuana usage is prohibited in public places, and recreational users are not permitted to grow the plants indoors. At authorized dispensaries, retail sales are permitted and subject to a 37% excise tax. DC weed delivery also comes under the purview of these regulations. 

In conclusion, it is expressly forbidden in the District to sell recreational cannabis products for business purposes. As a result, a large percentage of the goods sold and “given” in the city are likely to be dangerous for human consumption. Furthermore, despite the fact that these activities appear to be widely allowed, local firms are nevertheless at danger of enforcement measures by local and federal investigators. 

Written by Kathy Cooley