By, Martin Austermuhle on https://dcist.com
A number of marijuana gifting shops have opened across D.C. in recent years, prompting complaints from some lawmakers who say the are skirting the law and undermining the city’s regulated medical marijuana dispensers.
D.C. regulators will start inspecting marijuana gifting stores in September for health code, tax, and licensing violations, potentially increasing the pressure on businesses that some local legislators say have been skirting the law and undermining the city’s regulated medical marijuana dispensaries.
According to the Alcoholic Beverage Control Administration, which regulates medical marijuana sales in D.C. and would oversee recreational sales if and when they are legalized, a seemingly un-ironically named “Joint Cannabis Force” of various city agencies — including D.C. Health, the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, the Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department, and the Office of Tax and Revenue — will start inspecting the stores after a 30-day grace period that kicked off this month.
The inspectors will be looking to ensure brick-and-mortar vendors have the proper business licenses and certificates of occupancy, are compliant with the fire code, are paying the proper taxes, and are only giving away edibles and other manufactured products that are approved by the city and in compliance with food safety and hygiene laws.
The campaign targets so-called I-71 stores, named after the 2014 voter-approved initiative that legalized the possession, personal use, home-cultivation, and gifting of small amounts of marijuana — but not its sale. In recent years, growing number of gifting stores and services — which sell regular goods like art and clothing and then give customers gifts of marijuana — have appeared across D.C., serving as a de facto recreational marketplace for marijuana. They have also become more visible; what started as gifting events and delivery services has turned into traditional storefronts that anyone might assume are legal recreational marijuana dispensaries.
Medical marijuana dispensaries — which are taxed and regulated — have said the gifting stores are breaking the law and stealing away customers, and twice over the last year the D.C. Council has debated legislation to ramp up civil enforcement of the gifting stores. (Police periodically raid some of the stores and arrest employees, but charges are rarely prosecuted and business is often only interrupted for a few days.) A bill was voted down earlier this year after members of the gifting community organized against it, saying they represent a diverse and homegrown industry-in-waiting for when D.C. can legalize recreational sales. Since 2015 Congress has banned D.C. from taking that step.
Many of the gifting businesses say that they are already in compliance with D.C. business regulations and pay taxes on the products they sell. But for those complying with the law, a press release from ABRA warns that those not in compliance “may be subject to a fine or other enforcement action permitted by the statutory authority of each respective enforcement agency.”
Lonny Bramzon, an attorney and owner of Street Lawyer Services, a gifting store on H Street NE, says he doesn’t see ABRA’s announcement as necessarily targeting marijuana, though he thinks it may be an easy way for D.C. to close down operators who haven’t followed city regulations.
“It seems that ABRA isn’t concerned with the instrumentality of the gifting. It seems like they’re concerned with business licenses and certificates of occupancy,” he said. “If somebody is going to open a coffee shop, they’re going to get their licenses and do the inspections. But because of the nature of the [marijuana] business, there’s a higher chance people will open without the proper licenses. This might be a backhanded way to shut down some of those shops. I would like to make sure everyone has their licenses and is paying their taxes like everyone else.”
The council has taken steps to shore up the city’s seven legal medical marijuana dispensaries, including exempting them from sales taxes for a week in April, and more recently passing a bill that allows D.C. residents to self-certify that they need medical marijuana, doing away with the former requirement that a doctor write them a formal recommendation for the drug.
There’s No Paywall Here
DCist is supported by a community of members … readers just like you. So if you love the local news and stories you find here, don’t let it disappear!