WASHINGTON (DC News Now) — Thursday marked the District’s official crackdown on so-called marijuana gifting shops which sell items or services such as clothing or massages and then “gifts” marijuana.
These owners say the D.C. Joint Cannabis Task Force will be targeting them unfairly while Mayor Muriel Bowser and police brass say this is a safety issue and that these shops lead an increase in crime. Dispensary owners simply call them “illegals.”
But advocates of these marijuana gifting shops say they are managed or owned by people of color who can’t afford to compete for a dispensary license.
City officials say the estimated 75 to 100 shops have been getting around the 2014 law which legalized the small use of marijuana which is illegal to buy or sell in Washington D.C.
It was D.C.’s Initiative 71 passed in 2014 that legalized possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use. That’s two ounces or less and only on private property.
But in the years since, gifting shops began to sprout up all around the city, some with creative names that would tease the cannabis experience. Even a lobbying committee was created to protect their interests.
All of this, advocates of these shops say, while they were dealing with police raids or their storefronts.
Joshua Eatman is one of the owners of Seed & Flour, a minority owned company that supplies cannabis products to I-71 gifting shops.
He said he feels betrayed by District officials.
“I feel like in 2014 it was clearly stated to all the I-71 compliance that we would need,” Eatman said. “So all of the shops, myself included, spent a lot of money, a lot of resource, a lot of time…to follow all the guidelines.”
But Norbert Pickett, who owns Cannabliss dispensary, doesn’t see it that way. These dispensaries are operating illegally and should be shut down, he said. His business is the only one of seven dispensaries that is minority owned.
“It’s illegal. There’s no gray area about it,” Pickett said. “What comes to my mind was how difficult it was for me to get my license, how many agency fees and taxes that we pay…all the things you have to go through to be a regulated business while others don’t have to make that kind of sacrifice.”
Pickett said the city and residents who consume the marijuana from these places are the ones “getting hurt” because the gifting shops are not providing “a tested product.”
Hannah Clarke, a cannabis industry marketing expert, said many marijuana gifting shop owners want to become a dispensary but face huge financial and legal hurdles.
“Providing a safe pathway forward for the recreational businesses to stand in the light as well is really what the public is looking for,” she said. “Most of these business owners are looking for guidelines and regulations on how to become legal dispensaries.”
Clarke said there’s no open enrollment currently.
“While they pay for attorneys and services to provide a pathway to what could potentially be a dispensary, they’re met with roadblocks such as application fees, zoning, a lot of regular business challenges that wouldn’t apply to them if they weren’t involved with cannabis.”