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DC Council Votes Against Closing Marijuana ‘Gifting' Loophole

In a narrow vote, the D.C. Council failed to approve emergency legislation that would lift the requirement of seeing a doctor before being able to purchase medical marijuana.

The setback for patients and dispensaries is good news for dozens of stores that are getting around the law by “gifting” marijuana with other purchases.

Darel Dawson doesn’t sell marijuana at his store, Peace in the Air, on 18th Street NW in Adams Morgan, but lots of customers walk out with pot.

His store is one dozens of businesses in the District calling themselves Initiative 71 compliant. The initiative made it legal to possess and gift marijuana.

“If the legislation passed today, it would put hundreds if not thousands of people out of work,” Dawson said.

“Sixty percent of the people who are involved in the industry are either Black or Hispanic, and so like the people of color have found a way to find social equity in this market,” he said.

Owners of medical marijuana dispensaries say the shops are illegal and hurting their business.

“We lost over 60 percent of our patient base for the legal dispensaries,” said Linda Mercado Greene, owner of Anacostia Organics.

D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson proposed the legislation that would have created fines of $30,000 for shops caught gifting marijuana to customers and allowed D.C. residents over 21 to purchase medical marijuana without seeing a doctor first and simply self-attesting to their medical need.

“To continue to simply turn a blind eye to the illegal market, the $500 million market that is slowly but surely sinking the legal market, there’s really not justification for sanctioning illegal businesses,” Mendelson said.

Mendelson’s legislation failed by just a single vote. Several of those opposed said they understand the need for the legislation but want to hold public hearings first.

“At the end of the day, I just can’t get behind making what are drastic policy changes on an emergency basis,” Council member Elissa Silverman said. “This dramatically alters how cannabis will be bought and sold in the District of Columbia.”

The District has already made it legal for residents over 65 to self-attest to their medical need for marijuana. The Council could revisit this in the future.

There are several bills making their way through the Council that could allow for recreational sales, but right now, a congressional budget rider written by Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) prohibits the sale of recreational pot in D.C.

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