Washington DC…Gift To “lawyers” …To Access Cannabis

Washington DC’s Hill Rag reports

For a $60-$90 donation to the lawyers supposedly a floor above – what is known in these shadowy businesses as the “gift” ‒ donors can walk out with a thank-you of 3.5 grams of the flower of their choice. At other similar DC businesses, which may number more than 100, the gift is a kid’s sticker normally costing pennies, a QR code giving ownership of amateurish art, a “counseling”’ session, a tiny tube of CBD topical muscle balm or other meaningless and inexpensive item.

This sleight of hand allows I-71 cannabis entrepreneurs to skirt DC’s law allowing only personal use and sale of medical marijuana. I-71 refers to Initiative 71, approved by DC voters in 2014, which legalized possession of up to two ounces of weed, cultivation of only three mature plants at a time and a “gift” of no more than one ounce of pot to another person over 21 years of age. Federal law still classes marijuana as a Schedule 1 substance whose possession and sale are a felony.

 

Here’s the full introduction to the story

Step past the Dick Tracy caricature on the sign advertising Street Lawyer Services and into the business at 409 H St. NE and you won’t find a lawyer. No lawyer’s shingle is visible anywhere, inside or out. 

“They’re upstairs,” the woman who greets customers assures us in the brightly lit room, directing our attention away from the art on the walls, the couch no customer is allowed to sit in and the large-screen TV on the wall blasting out “Without Remorse,’’ and toward an array of marijuana products known in DC’s burgeoning and unregulated weed industry as “flower.” 

For a $60-$90 donation to the lawyers supposedly a floor above – what is known in these shadowy businesses as the “gift” ‒ donors can walk out with a thank-you of 3.5 grams of the flower of their choice. At other similar DC businesses, which may number more than 100, the gift is a kid’s sticker normally costing pennies, a QR code giving ownership of amateurish art, a “counseling”’ session, a tiny tube of CBD topical muscle balm or other meaningless and inexpensive item. 

This sleight of hand allows I-71 cannabis entrepreneurs to skirt DC’s law allowing only personal use and sale of medical marijuana. I-71 refers to Initiative 71, approved by DC voters in 2014, which legalized possession of up to two ounces of weed, cultivation of only three mature plants at a time and a “gift” of no more than one ounce of pot to another person over 21 years of age. Federal law still classes marijuana as a Schedule 1 substance whose possession and sale are a felony. 

A loophole in the law has hindered regulation of DC’s retail marijuana sector and engendered a probably illegal and rapidly expanding drug business that appears to be spiraling out of control. 

Capital Community News, publishers of the Hill Rag, East of the River and MidCity DC newspapers, supported by Spotlight DC, a nonprofit supporter of local investigative journalism, has identified 60 of these storefronts, 31 of which appear to be operating without a Basic Business License (BBL), which enables consumers, employees and governmental officials to identify business owners. 25 are operating without a Certificate of Occupancy (C of O), which assures consumers the business has been certified as safe and can legally do business at its location.

This investigation revealed that 42 of the I-71 storefronts are in DC’s Northwest quadrant. Wards 1 (23), Ward 2 (8) and Ward 6 (15) house more than three-fourths of the I-71s Districtwide, and Zip codes 20001 (12), 20002 (14) and 20009 (11) are home to more than 60%. 

At one point, nearly a dozen of these storefronts populated a 10-block section of H Street NE, a popular nightlife corridor that draws customers from the whole Metro area. At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman (I) lives two blocks from the popular H Street corridor. “I see all of these cars with Maryland and Virginia tags come off the highway, go down H Street and then go right back out again,” Silverman notes. 

Anwar Saleem, executive director of H Street MainStreet, confirms Silverman’s observation and warns that the popular nightlife corridor is being turned into DC’s version of Amsterdam. Saleem says 15 I-71s currently operate on H Street and attract street drug dealers who peddle their illicit wares or prey on patrons headed to the I-71s or to legitimate bars, restaurants and other businesses. 

According to Saleem, landlords who lost tenants during the pandemic and faced mortgage and tax payments are succumbing to offers from the I-71s to pay two or three times the going rent. “These businesses have more cash and they can pay higher rents,” says Saleem. “We are losing our H Street vibe.”

Read the full report

The Wild West of Unregulated Cannabis Retailers

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