New Marijuana Laws in D.C.

legal-marijuana-in-dcIn November, 2014 DC voters overwhelmingly approved Initiative 71 by a vote of 115,050 (70.06%) to 49,168 (29.94%).

After dodging numerous congressional hurdles, the initiative will take effect on Thursday, February 26, 2015 at 12:01 AM.

As of February 26, 2015, the 30-day congressional review of Initiative 71 ends. Since Congress did not act to explicitly strike down the initiative, cannabis will be legal to grow and possess in small amounts within the District of Columbia. However, no provisions for the taxation, regulation or sale of the drug are currently in place.

It will be legal in the District of Columbia to:

  • possess up to two ounces of marijuana for personal use;
  • grow no more than six cannabis plants with 3 or fewer being mature, flowering plants, within the person’s principal residence;
  • transfer without payment (but not sell) up to one ounce of marijuana to another person 21 years of age or older; and
  • use or sell drug paraphernalia for the use, growing, or processing of marijuana or cannabis.

Challenge by Congress

Congress thought they had killed Initiative 71 in December.

In December 2014, Congress included a small additional clause in a massive $1.1 trillion spending bill that prohibits federal or local funds from being used to “enact any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties associated with the possession, use, or distribution of any schedule I substance,” which includes marijuana.

House Republicans have said they believe Initiative 71 was blocked by the spending restriction in December.

However, DC officials have decided that the spending bill clause does not apply to Initiative 71 because the November vote “enacted” the new policy before the spending bill was approved.

DC’s non-voting representative in the House, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), said in a statement that, “The District’s examination agrees with our analysis that the initiative was enacted when voters approved it and will take effect at the end of the 30-day congressional review period,”


The D.C. Council’s measure in March 2014 that decriminalized marijuana took the first step toward this legalization of cannabis. The measure stripped away jail time for possession and made it a $25 fine for possession of up to one ounce.

In July, the District joined 17 states that have decriminalized marijuana. Members of the D.C. Council and Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) said they were moved by studies that showed that eighty-eight percent of people convicted of marijuana possession in the city in recent years were black, even as surveys have shown that whites and blacks are equally likely to use the drug.

Before the decriminalization, the District’s marijuana-arrest rate was higher than any of the 50 states and ranked seventh nationally among a study of 1,000 counties analyzed by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Still Illegal on Federal Land

On the District’s iconic federal land, including the Mall, the monuments and streets surrounding the White House, possession remains a federal offense punishable by up to a year in jail.

National parks, military property, public housing and other land owned by the federal government totals about 18 square miles in the District, or about 29 percent of the city’s total land area.

Use of Marijuana

As specified in the ballot measure, District residents and visitors will be able to possess up to two ounces of marijuana — about a sandwich bag’s worth. Residents will also be able to cultivate the plant in their homes — up to six seedlings each and up to three plants to maturity. Marijuana paraphernalia, including pipes, bongs, and rolling papers, will also be legal.

D.C. police will be instructed to continue ticketing for public smoking of marijuana, a ticket akin to drinking in public, punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.

As of now it is unclear how marijuana will be legally sold in the District. But lawmakers have suggested that dispensaries, cafes, and smoking clubs will not be allowed in the district anytime soon. In essence it is still illegal to buy marijuana, but it is not illegal to grow or possess it.

If you have questions about a Virginia’s laws concerning the possession or distribution of marijuana, contact the lawyers at Winslow & McCurry at 804.423.1382.