How New Weed Laws in DC Will Affect Dispensaries

It’s been a wild ride for the recreational cannabis scene in the district, with DC marijuana laws set to change once again. When it became clear that there wasn’t the political will in Congress to eliminate the Harris Rider, which banned retail sales of weed in DC, it looked like recreational marijuana could be in trouble. The DC Council came very close to shutting down weed gifters in the spring of 2022 when a piece of legislation that would have heavily fined weed gifting shops failed by a single vote.

However, things now seem to be going in the opposite direction. In December 2022, the DC Council unanimously passed legislation that would give the city’s “gray market” marijuana shops a path to legalization. At the time of this writing, the changes are still subject to a congressional review, but weed legalization in DC may be about to pass another milestone.

The DC Weed Gifter Loophole

DC weed legalization started in 2010 when the council approved a bill allowing medical marijuana to be sold and consumed. In 2014, voters approved (by an overwhelming majority) a ballot measure known as Initiative 71 to legalize the consumption of recreational marijuana. 

But some people in Congress decided they didn’t like that, so they quickly attached a rider to the annual budget to ban the sale of recreational weed in DC. Funny how they can just do stuff like that, isn’t it?

The good news is that some clever citizens found their own answer to the Harris Rider. If you can’t sell weed, you can “gift” it with the purchase of another item. This has created the so-called gray market of DC weed gifters. The legality is murky, but businesses and citizens have mostly been able to create their own industry of recreational cannabis under the current DC weed laws.

The New Weed Laws in DC

Washington DC cannabis laws could be in for a significant change if the latest legislation passed by the DC Council goes into effect. The new changes would make it easier for businesses to get a medical license and residents to get a medical marijuana card. Many I-71 shops may give up the gifting business to get medical marijuana licenses instead. 


Washington DC recently made it much easier for residents to obtain a medical marijuana card through self-certification. This circumvents the need for residents to obtain a doctor’s recommendation to get a medical marijuana card in DC. Individuals can simply certify their own need for medical cannabis. 

In the summer of 2022, the DC council passed emergency legislation that allowed even non-DC residents to self-certify to obtain a medical marijuana card. The piece of legislation that passed in December 2022 would make this a permanent weed law in DC. More than 10,000 people self-certified after the emergency legislation was passed, and more than 25,000 DC residents had medical marijuana cards by that November.

To self-certify for a medical marijuana card in DC, residents must be at least 21 years old and have identification, a photo, and proof of residency. Once they apply, they will receive a temporary digital registration to allow them to purchase medical cannabis while their application is being reviewed. 

Non-residents can apply for a temporary, 30-day registration through the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration. They can also show registration from a U.S. state that has “reciprocity” with D.C., meaning they recognize each other’s medical marijuana status. 

Cannabis Business Licensing Caps

One of the biggest barriers to the expansion of licensed cannabis businesses in Washington DC was the limit on the number of licenses the district would allow. When the legislation was passed in 2022, there were only seven medical dispensaries and eight cultivators in DC. 

That limit is now gone, which will enable the many thriving I-71 shops in DC to convert to licensed medical dispensaries if they so choose. No more gray areas—they can now become completely legit. The legislation also creates additional license categories for cultivation centers, online retailers, testing labs, couriers, and manufacturers.

Tax Relief

DC’s new weed laws would also allow licensed marijuana businesses to deduct their operational expenses from their District income taxes—money that would normally be deducted from their District taxes if they weren’t marijuana shops.
Washington DC will also have new reasons to celebrate every toker’s favorite holiday with the 4/20 Medical Cannabis Sales Tax Holiday Week. During that week, customers won’t have to pay sales tax on purchases from licensed weed dispensaries in DC.

Unlimited Plant Cultivation

A cap on the number of licenses given out isn’t the only limit that would be eliminated by the new DC weed laws. The 1,000-plant limit placed on cultivation centers would also be removed, with no new cap to replace it. Cultivators would now be able to grow as many plants as they can, which would hopefully help supply match the new potential demand. 

Increased Possession Regulations

Currently, those who possess a medical marijuana card in DC get an allotment of 4 ounces. The DC marijuana laws currently under review would allow individuals who hold medical marijuana licenses to possess up to eight ounces of marijuana. That’s double the weed!

On-Site Consumption

You ever buy some weed in DC and want to smoke it right then and there? Well, soon you might be able to do just that. 
If the new DC weed laws are approved, dispensaries will be able to have a designated area for those with medical marijuana cards to light up. This area would need to be separate from where the weed is sold and can be indoors or outdoors.

Answers to Your Burning Questions

What Does This Mean for DC Weed Gifter Shops?

DC weed gifter shops will essentially have two choices: Remain in the legal gray area by gifting weed, or obtain a medical marijuana license. 

It remains to be seen how DC weed laws may continue to change if this legislation goes into effect. The bill already contains provisions for increased enforcement for anyone trying to remain in the gray market 315 days after the bill is enacted. This new approach is expected to begin in November 2023. 

Is Recreational Weed Legal in Washington DC Now?

Yes—sort of. Actually, recreational weed has been legal in Washington DC since 2015, with a few asterisks. The selling of recreational marijuana will remain illegal, though the legislation would make medical marijuana licenses for businesses and cards for customers much easier to obtain. It’s as close to the full legalization of recreational marijuana as we’re going to get under current DC weed laws.

Is It Legal to Smoke Marijuana in Public?

No, though the pending weed law in DC would allow licensed businesses to create designated indoor and outdoor spaces for the consumption of marijuana.

Stay in the Loop on Cannabis Legalization

Many people see the latest potential weed law in DC as a cause for celebration, though there are sure to be plenty of questions and kinks along the way. For all the latest in Washington DC weed laws, along with plenty of advice on how to get weed in DC, stick with Gentleman Toker.