DC’ist reports that officials will now hold back on inspections of gifting stores..
D.C. officials are delaying plans to inspect the city’s many marijuana gifting stores this week, deepening the confusion around the maybe-legal, maybe-not industry that continues to grow across the city.
The planned inspections were announced a month ago, with D.C. officials saying that after Labor Day they would be checking to see if the stores — which purport to sell common goods like art and clothing and give “gifts” of marijuana — had obtained proper business licenses, were collecting sales taxes, and were following the city’s health and fire code, much like any other business in the city.
The inspections were seen as one attempt to rein in a marketplace for marijuana that has grown dramatically in recent years, with more and more brick-and-mortar storefronts that could seem like legal recreational dispensaries to any normal customer, even as marijuana sales remain illegal in the city outside of a small number of medical marijuana dispensaries.
Some D.C. officials and lawmakers say the stores are illegally exploiting the city law that allows people to gift small amounts of marijuana, and in so doing are offering products that aren’t locally made or tested. Just last week an investigation by Capital Community News found that of 60 gifting stores it identified across D.C., 31 were operating without a basic business license and 25 without a Certificate of Occupancy, both of which are basic requirements for a business in the city.
For their part, many vendors and their advocates counter that they are complying with D.C.’s business regulations; that what they are doing is in keeping with Initiative 71, the 2014 ballot measure that legalized the personal use, possession, home cultivation, and gifting of marijuana; and that they represent a diverse and homegrown industry-in-the-making until D.C. is allowed to legalize recreational sales. (Since 2015, Congress has prohibited the city from doing so.)
Last month’s announcement on the planned inspections came from the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration, which regulates medical marijuana sales in D.C. and would oversee recreational sales if and when they are legalized. It said a “Joint Cannabis Force” of various city agencies — including DC Health, the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, the Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department, and the Office of Tax and Revenue — would lead the unannounced inspections.
ABRA did not respond to a multiple requests for comment on why the inspections were suddenly shelved. Susana Castillo, a spokeswoman for Mayor Muriel Bowser, did not give any specific details as to why the inspections were being put on hold. “Eventually it will happen, but right now there’s some work that needs to get done,” she said.
A source with knowledge of the situation said MPD officials had raised concerns about the protocol for inspecting the stores, and what would happen if inspectors found weapons or other illicit items. In the past MPD officers have obtained warrants to search gifting stores, and on occasion have confiscated illegal guns and large amounts of marijuana. MPD did not respond to a request for comment.
The city’s decision took D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson by surprise when a reporter informed him about it on Tuesday evening. Twice this year Mendelson tried to pass legislation to ramp up civil enforcement of the marijuana gifting stores, saying that they threaten the financial viability of regulated medical marijuana dispensaries and could put consumers at risk.
“The District has to get control of this illegal market,” he said, referring to the gifting stores. “California let it get out of hand and now they’re having a hell of a time trying to control their black market. Enforcement is going to have to happen, sooner or later.”
Mendelson added that he doesn’t know that pushing for specific legislation again would help. “If the mayor’s agencies are reluctant to enforce, it throws into question whether anything we do would make a difference,” he said.
Mendelson has written a bill that would create a legal system of recreational marijuana sales in D.C., but whether the council can more forward with it will depend on whether Congress lifts its standing prohibition on the city loosening its marijuana laws any further. This month Congress is expected to debate and consider a new federal spending bill, and Democrats have already said they will fight to keep the prohibition of marijuana legalization out of it. That same promise was made earlier this year, though, and the prohibition remained in place.