DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson has revived his failed attempt to shut down the cannabis gifting storefronts and delivery services from November with an emergency vote scheduled for TOMORROW, April 5, 2022. I’ve had a chance to review the new bills myself and, while the ability for residents to self-certify into the medical program is a significant change that sounds great on paper for District residents, it is a ham-handed bill with much farther reaching consequences than perhaps anyone realizes. In Mendelson and cohorts’ fervor to destroy the most socially equitable market in the country (which includes Mayor Bowser), they have made some critical errors with this bill. Most importantly, this bill shifts the responsibility to prevent cannabis sales in the District from themselves and on to landlords & property owners- not only commercial, but residential as well.
I-71 leaders have been asking for months for the Council to meet with them and hear what they have to say, and we’ve been pointing out the terrible consequences of this course for the very people they claim they’re trying to help, all to no avail. So I’m not going to rehash what the I-71 Committee, Generational Equity Movement, and everyone else is saying very correctly about how shutting down I-71 shops does not constitute an emergency, will only force the legacy market underground, will increase instead of decrease crime, and will disproportionately affect people & communities of color. Instead, let’s talk about the other people Mendelson is about to screw over, rich property owners.
UNREASONABLE BURDEN TO DC LANDLORDS
This bill creates an impossible burden for any landlord or property owner in the District to operate. The two key problems with Mendelson’s bill are that landlords are subjected to a $30,000 penalty before any warning has been issued that an unlicensed marijuana business is operating on the premises and that they have included delivery services within this bill’s scope. Combine this with the natural inclination of our laws to enforce penalties for single transgressions, and the possibilities this bill would allow quickly become catastrophic. I’m going to present a few different scenarios Mendelson’s bill could plausibly lead to for your consideration.
So we know that the legacy market will not simply go away. There is a demand here in DC, its neighbors, and states further south that will find intrepid people here to serve them. All this bill does is disincentivize them from owning or renting the space in which they operate. They can avoid all penalties for themselves by simply regressing back to the pick-up model of hotel rooms and AirBNBs- a point we’ll return to later.
Renting to an I-71 Delivery Service
The first scenario I want to discuss is that any small residential landlord could quite plausibly be renting to a delivery service, which are by nature more discreet, and will certainly be even more so should this disastrous bill pass. While the delivery service can simply move on, the residential landlord is subject to a $30k fine with no warning or realistic way to have prevented the situation. Rental contracts typically include a clause that places any financial burden caused by illegal activities onto the renter. In this case, however, you would be enforcing that enormous bill on the table of someone who no longer has the means to pay it, leaving District property owners holding the bag.
Even commercial owners would face an impossible burden to know whether or not a delivery service is operating on the premises. I throw some desks, computers, and phones in there and say I do IT, why would you even think twice? Are you going to ask to review my business plan? And what if I was a person of color? Could I expect to be treated the same way as a white applicant for any commercial lease in DC from this point forward? Would landlords, perhaps, insist on holding the $30k upfront for all new leases in the District? How devastating would the impact of such a policy be for minorities trying to start businesses that are completely and wholly unrelated to cannabis? And, again, this is the chaos Mendelson is willing to unleash for the sake of 7 medical dispensaries.
Storefronts won’t be able to operate as conspicuously as today, but that won’t deter everyone from trying. Let’s say I’ve been running an I71 business for years and have developed a healthy customer list. After this bill passes, I close that down and open a hat store. We’ll call it The Hat Store. It looks legit from the perspective of the landlord, but I’ve been emailing my list about the passwords to ask for cannabis when they come to visit. Maybe the cops catch on there, or they don’t, and I become emboldened to risk some Instagram posts about it. Monitoring all social media of those they lease to is beyond what can be expected of landlords, yet in this scenario, they could be charged for an operation they weren’t privy to all the same.
This extends to residences, too, and we’ll look at that more in depth along with homegrowers below.
The pick-up model that predated the storefront proliferation will become a natural fallback for the legacy market should this bill pass. These services operated out of hotels and AirBNBs, and since the penalties in this bill are aimed at property owners, renting will become a natural fallback for I-71 brands for whom the $30k penalty to reopen the premises will simply not apply- though the same can’t be said for the property owner. Further, the District can’t enforce these penalties on brands whose HQ is located in Maryland or Virginia, and it’s not clear at this time as to whether these states are interested in working with DC police to eradicate a legacy market that doesn’t sell within their borders.
Remember how I mentioned that the singular-transgression policy was important? Here’s the scenario I want you to think about here. Let’s say I want to have a pop-up cannabis event and allow vendors. I rented an AirBNB for this purpose, put out a flyer on IG about a weed party, but the address is only disseminated via DM after I’ve verified their account. That’s standard procedure for these events today. Only, I’ve foolishly given the address to someone who is actually an enforcement agent.
As the property owner of the AirBNB I’m renting, you’ll be stuck with the $30k fine from the DC Council for allowing weed sales on the property, a situation you had no way of foreseeing or preventing simply trying to run your short-term rental business from an app.
Homegrowers Locked Out
DC’s local weed homegrowers think this bill is to shut down the I-71 storefront market, but anyone that owns their own home, grows weed, and occasionally sells a bag here or there to make ends meet is in the most precarious position of all. You grow great plants, you show them off on Instagram, you get DMs regularly from folks looking to score a bag of freshly harvested cannabis. Only, whoops, one of those messages came from an undercover. Now you’re locked out of your residence for at least 96 hours, longer at the discretion of the Council, and facing a $30k fine just to get back inside. You’ll have to prove that it won’t happen again, or they can keep you locked out, so you’ll probably have to quit growing weed. But hey, the cops stole all your equipment as evidence already, so you couldn’t do that if you wanted to!
What Can I Do?
Call your council members! Let them know you don't want your taxes being used to shut down weed stores. Here's the list to contact them!