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The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

DC Council Passes Emergency Legislation Regulating Unlicensed Cannabis Gifting Shops

On Jan. 9, the Washington, D.C. Council unanimously passed emergency legislation granting the Alcoholic Beverage and Cannabis Administration (ABCA) the ability to penalize unlicensed cannabis gifting stores that have not yet completed an application for the city’s medical cannabis program.

The Medical Cannabis Enforcement Emergency Amendment Act of 2024, which will take effect for 90 days, is aimed toward unlicensed Initiative 71 (I-71) compliant cannabis stores in D.C. that “gift” cannabis products with the purchase of a mundane item, often stickers or t-shirts. These stores operate through an I-71 loophole, as cannabis possession and gifting under two ounces to adults is legal, but its sale is only available to medical marijuana patients

On his website, Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen said the issue of regulation and taxability caused the council to move this emergency legislation. 

“Last year, the council took action to address the legal ‘gray area’ of supposed ‘I-71 compliant’ shops and create a pathway for them to join the District’s existing – and very well-run – Medical Cannabis Program,” Allen wrote.

For currently unlicensed dispensaries, this process entails submitting an application to the ABCA for a license to sell medical cannabis, made easier through the Medical Cannabis Amendment Act of 2022. The act lifted existing caps on the number of dispensaries allowed to operate and increased the number of cultivation centers allowed to open. 

“However, as the application period has opened in the past several weeks, it has quickly become clear we need to create a strong and unambiguous enforcement mechanism for shops that still choose to operate illegally,” Allen added. 

Joe Massaua (SFS ’25) is an Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) commissioner who represents 2E04, a territory encompassing parts of the Georgetown and Foxhall neighborhoods. Massaua said Up N’ Smoke, a dispensary on M Street close to Georgetown’s campus, is currently going through the process of applying for a license, which includes settling with the ANC. 

Unlicensed cannabis gifting stores can now be penalized by the Alcohol Beverage and Cannabis Administration (ABCA), closing a loophole in DC’s marijuana legislation. – Photo Courtesy of World Travel Guide

“We’re going through the protests process to get a settlement agreement because all licenses have a settlement agreement between the community neighbors and the holder of the license, which in this case was Up N’ Smoke,” Massaua told The Hoya. “But that licensing process is going through now and as of Jan. 29, I think the process closes.”

Zack Learman, a partner and cannabis attorney at Mandija Learman Green PLLC, spoke about the unique challenges of working around the District’s cannabis laws, specifically regarding the I-71 loophole and gray market.  

“I had no idea D.C. was a market at all until Up N’ Smoke came to me to apply for a legitimate license or cannabis permit in D.C., and that process is usually competitive in other states,” Learman said. “Every legal market has its own idiosyncrasies. D.C. is insane. I’ve never seen anything like it in a good and bad way like this gray market is nuts.”

According to Learman, the application was a straightforward process, aided by Up N’ Smoke’s status as a social equity applicant. However, he said it is still difficult to navigate the D.C. Council bureaucracy, which poses a struggle for attorneys. 

​​“I don’t think there are even really administrative rules fleshed out yet, and I’m trying to get my hands on it to figure it out. If some of these ANC things go south, we’re prepared to go to the mat if we have to,” Learman said.

Learman added that varying views across generations on the legalized uses of marijuana contribute to the nuances underlying the process of receiving a permit. 

“And there’s a generational divide, too. The classic that I’ve heard is like a ‘not in my backyard’ kind of a thing, and it’s a little tiresome, but also I understand it’s just a generational divide.”

Massaua said unlicensed businesses could face consequences such as warnings, fines and cease and desist orders after the Jan. 29 deadline, which he supports since he believes they will maximize customers’ safety when using marijuana.  

“After that, we’re hoping that MPD and the Police Department and the Department of Licensing and Consumer Protection and ABCA, which is the Alcohol Beverage and Cannabis Administration, will crack down on these unlicensed stores,” Massaua said. “Our goal is to have a Georgetown that has licensed stores that provide safe products for customers, especially since students probably use marijuana at a higher rate than the general population of Georgetown.”

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