Understanding the Initiative 71 Law in 2023

Initiative 71 or I71 is a widely used term in Washington D.C., and it’s the most famous DC weed law that inadvertently brought about the “gifting market” where DC residents and tourists can buy items such as stickers or digital art prints and be gifted cannabis without a medical marijuana card.


The Initiative 71 law was dubbed the “Legalization of Possession of Minimal Amounts of Marijuana for Personal Use Act” and was meant to decriminalize marijuana and allow residents of DC to legally possess, grow, consume, and gift their cannabis, but it was never intended to allow any sales of recreational marijuana. 


Currently, in 2023, the only legal way to purchase cannabis is with a DC medical marijuana card. Little did they know after 8 years of the I-71 law’s passing there would be well over 100 Initiative 71 gifting dispensaries in Washington D.C. alone.


While the term I71 is widely misunderstood, in this article we go over what Initiative 71 is as a law and what it means for you as a DC resident or tourist in 2023.

What is Initiative 71?


Initiative 71 actually came about from the DC Cannabis Campaign (DCMJ) who sat outside of DC courthouses and collected over 57,000 signatures in favor of Initiative 71. The I71 law won by a 70% vote on November 4, 2014, and the law took effect on February 26, 2015. 


Initiative 71 is an expansive law, and here is a quick overview:


  • If you are 21 years of age, cannabis is legal to possess and consume.
  • You can possess two ounces of marijuana maximum.
  • You can only smoke on private property.
  • Smoking in the car and driving under the influence of cannabis are forbidden.
  • You cannot consume cannabis on federal grounds.
  • You can cultivate up to six marijuana plants on your private or rental property (with your landlord's permission).
  • You cannot sell or buy weed.

However, because of the Harris Rider bill, DC cannot take the next step in using Federal funds to open up a recreational cannabis market. The blocking of Federal funds birthed the Initiative 71 gifting market, with well over 100 dispensaries selling some of the best weed in DC for the lowest prices with no need for a medical marijuana card.


Below, we will go over in detail how Initiative 71 affects you as a DC resident or tourist.

Cannabis Possession and Paraphernalia in DC


Since the decriminalization of marijuana through Initiative 71, anyone in DC over the age of 21 years old can legally possess up to 2 ounces of marijuana (56.7 grams).


Title 48 Chapter 11 of the DC Code also makes it legal for you to possess cannabis paraphernalia such as blunt wraps, blunt encasing, pre-rolled hollow cones, scales, zip-lock (1 inch X 1 inch), weed grinders, water pipes, pipes, and roach clips.


You can check out our guide on DC paraphernalia laws for the full scope on what is legal and what isn’t with cannabis paraphernalia.


If DC Metropolitan Police do catch you with over two ounces of marijuana, this will be considered a criminal offense with a penalty of up to six months in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000. 


Even if you are in violation of possessing over two ounces, any possession of cannabis paraphernalia associated with the possession charge will not constitute a violation.

Transferring Cannabis in DC (Gifting)


While I71 did bring about an entire market of “gifting dispensaries”, this was never the true intention of the law.


Initiative 71 allows you to transfer one ounce or less of marijuana to another person as long as they are 21 years of age and there are no money, goods, or services exchanged.


For example, it would be illegal to trade food, collector items, mechanic service, or lawn care in exchange for cannabis because this is considered to be  “goods or services exchanged”.


Essentially, the only way to transfer cannabis in Washington DC would be to give it to another person for free. This is also where the notorious loophole called “gifting” came about.


Now in 2023, you can find nearly a hundred I71 gifting stores in Washington DC, that operate through this gifting transfer loophole.


For a full breakdown on the I71 gifting loophole, check out our guide gifting weed in DC.


You can buy cannabis without a medical marijuana card at any of these I71 gifting shops, but the process is unique as you have to actually buy an item such as a sticker first and then be gifted the cannabis after the transaction of the sticker is complete. 


I71 gifting stores sell everything from edibles in DC to THC carts and even concentrates.


As of 2023, the only legal way to purchase cannabis is with an MMJ card at one of the 7 licensed medical dispensaries. The Medical Cannabis Amendment Act of 2022 has made the process much easier, as you no longer need a doctor's note to obtain a medical marijuana card. These dispensaries offer DC medical marijuana reciprocity to over 38 states, so if you are a cardholder from out of state, your medical card will most likely be accepted in DC.

Age Requirement for Initiative 71

In order for you to enjoy the benefits Initiative 71 has to offer, you must be at least 21 years of age.


This requirement is actually more strictly enforced within the I71 gifting community, as I71 Dispensaries are operating in the gray area, they want to try to do their best to stay compliant with the Initiative 71 law.


As a DC resident, whenever I visit any of the I71 gifting stores I’m greeted with friendly, but top-level security. I frequent some of the best DC dispensaries such as Gifted Curators and Legacy DC and even though I know security by name, they always check my ID.


The same goes if you plan on ordering from any of the DC weed delivery vendors. The process is actually stricter as you will have to take a photo of your Government ID alongside a selfie with you holding your ID.


While this may seem strict, as far as the gifting community goes, having an ID proving you are 21 years old is the only requirement for purchasing cannabis in DC that day.

Where can you consume marijuana in DC?

Mayor Muriel Bowser’s I71 fact sheet, clearly indicates that you must smoke or consume marijuana on private property.


The document also states that it’s illegal to smoke or consume marijuana (edibles) in public spaces or anywhere that the public is invited to, such as:

  • Restaurants
  • Bars
  • Coffee shops
  • Lounges
  • Hookah bars


This poses an issue as there are millions of tourists in DC a year staying in non-smoking hotels and Airbnb, not to mention the thousands of DC residents staying in Federal Public Housing, which doesn’t allow consumption of cannabis on property.


So while Initiative 71 suggests DC residents smoke in the privacy of their homes, it isn’t possible for many people - me included. 


Whether I’m walking through Adams Morgans or Du Pont Circle during the evening, I’m always smelling someone smoking cannabis in public. If you plan on taking the risk check out my article on where to smoke weed in DC but remember the Initiative 71 law does not allow for public marijuana consumption. There are however some friendly DC weed events that offer private spaces to smoke weed “publicly” like comedy shows, art classes, and brunches.


The Medical Cannabis Amendment Act will offer new retail endorsement licenses to open the first ever public locations where medical marijuana patients can consume marijuana in public. Both the safe-use facilities, and the Summer Garden events, will give DC medical marijuana patients a legal way to consume marijuana in public in early 2024.

Just a few quick tips on places you definitely want to avoid:


  • Family-friendly places
  • Office areas
  • College campuses
  • Churches and Religious buildings
  • Security/Law enforcement zones

I71 and driving under the influence of marijuana

Whether you are parked or driving, I71 prohibits the use of operating a vehicle or boat while under the influence of cannabis.


The punishment for a marijuana DUI in DC is the same offense as driving under the influence of alcohol. First-time offenders can expect a maximum penalty of 180 days in jail and/or a $1,000 fine. 


While the MDP is equipped to screen for alcohol DUIs through breathalyzers and field sobriety tests, there is currently no reliable technology or standardized test to detect if anyone driving in DC is under the influence of THC. 


Maryland Senator Waldstreicher recently proposed a bill known as the “Drugged Driving - Cannabis- Impaired Driving Test Pilot Program - Establishment” which will allow tech companies to partner with the Police Department on a trial basis to test new ways of determining a driver’s impairment with cannabis.


The first device in production is the Cognivue Thrive, which is an FDA-cleared technology that’s used by neurologists and other physicians to test for cognitive function, focusing primarily on memory, visuospatial, and executive function.


This test would take about two minutes to complete, but still would need to undergo real roadside testing before it’s made a standardized test for marijuana DUIs.


Once Maryland implements this technology, we can expect Washington DC and neighboring states to follow suit as well.

You Can Grow up to Six Marijuana Plants in DC

Under the Initiative 71 law, as long as you are 21 years of age you can grow up to six cannabis plants in your personal residency, with three of those plants being mature.


When growing cannabis, there are two stages the plant goes through and that’s the vegetative state (the entire cannabis plant is just green leaves) and there is the flowering state (where the cannabis plant begins producing buds).


I71 basically allows DC residents to only grow three plants at a time, but you can have two cycles of veg and flower occurring at the same time. So if you are planning to grow marijuana in DC, you can’t plant all six plants at once, because that would result in 6 mature plants at the end of your cycle. 


You would have to start with three plants and for those three plants to enter into the flowering stage before planting the next 3 plants. Timing is key here. If you understand how to cultivate cannabis correctly you can expect about 112 grams per plant every four months which would total 12 ounces of cannabis for every three plants you harvest.


For a full breakdown of this process, check out our guide on how to grow weed in DC.


If there is another adult in the house that wants to grow cannabis, the maximum amount of cannabis plants would be 12 plants, with six or fewer being flowering plants. No matter how many adults live in your house, the cultivation limit in DC is 12 plants per household.


DC law expects you to grow marijuana in a concealed space not exposed to the public, so you can’t grow in your front yard or backyard, or anywhere in your house where the public can see from outside windows.


Another limitation is that it’s illegal to grow weed within 0.3 kilometers of schools, other public buildings, youth centers, and pools.

What are the consequences of breaking the I71 law?

I-71 allows possessing, using, and growing marijuana on private properties. However, there are fines and penalties for: 


  • possession if you're under 21
  • smoking in public
  • selling or purchasing cannabis outside the "gifting" system



Don't do this if you don't want to be arrested:


  • Sell any amount of cannabis 
  • Carry more than two ounces of marijuana
  • Drive under the influence of THC
  • Smoke or consume THC or edibles in any public place or a vehicle and federal territory



Penalty for carrying more than two ounces of cannabis:


Up to six months in jail and/or up to $1,000 fine.


Penalty for smoking marijuana in public:


$25 up to $500 fine.


Selling cannabis outside the gifting system:


A $1000 fine or six months in jail for first offenders. 

Final Thoughts

Initiative 71 has made it legal to smoke, cultivate, and gift small amounts of marijuana in DC for anyone over 21. You can carry up to two ounces of cannabis and gift up to once ounce of cannabis. However, because of the Harris Rider bill, DC cannot take the next step in using Federal funds to open up a recreational cannabis market. The blocking of Federal funds birthed the Initiative 71 gifting market, where there are now over 100 unregulated stores in 2023 gifting cannabis through the Initiative 71 loophole. While this was never the intention, the primary focus of the Initiative 71 law was to decriminalize possession and consumption of marijuana in the District of Columbia.