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D.C. Council Approves Penalties for Unlicensed Weed Gifting Shops

Navigating New Regulations on Cannabis Gifting Shops in D.C.: A Closer Look

In a recent move, the Washington, D.C. District Council has given the green light to a measure aimed at regulating cannabis gifting shops that have operated outside the city's medical marijuana program. The bill, anticipated to take effect this week, addresses the unregulated market that emerged after the legalization of recreational marijuana through Initiative 71 in 2014.

The city's efforts to legalize and regulate adult-use cannabis dispensaries have faced obstacles from Congress, leading to the rise of "marijuana gifting shops." Operating on a unique model, customers purchase low-cost items at inflated prices and, ostensibly, receive cannabis as a gift in return.

To tackle the proliferation of these shops, Council member Charles Allen introduced emergency legislation, tasking the Alcohol Beverage and Cannabis Administration (ABCA) with regulating cannabis businesses. However, concerns have arisen, particularly among city leaders, about the potential impact on predominantly Black and Brown owners of local businesses.

The 2022 law aimed to expand the medical marijuana program, providing a path to legitimacy for unlicensed businesses. However, a lack of clarity on enforcement authority has hindered the law's effective implementation. The emergency measure empowers the ABCA to issue warnings, fines, and cease-and-desist letters to unlicensed weed shops, creating a pathway for them to join the legal medical marijuana market.

While some members of the district council are cautious about heavy fines, Council member Allen emphasizes the need to close the regulatory gap to protect law-abiding businesses. The concern revolves around preventing unlicensed establishments from continuing operations without applying, potentially harming those who have applied.

The legislation also grants the ABCA authority to fine property owners renting to unlicensed cannabis businesses after warnings. Additionally, Advisory Neighborhood Commissions now play a role in the licensing process, allowing them to file protest notices about unlicensed shops in their jurisdictions applying for medical marijuana business licenses.

As the bill awaits the signature of Democratic Mayor Muriel, the discussion around fair enforcement continues. Striking a balance between regulation and supporting local businesses, especially those within the predominantly Black community, remains a crucial aspect of the ongoing conversation in the nation's capital.

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By: Sam Williams

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