Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen is moving emergency legislation at today’s Legislative Meeting to address a significant enforcement gap in the new on-ramp process for unlicensed cannabis “gifting” shops to become licensed medical marijuana retailers.
The Council passed the Medical Cannabis Amendment Act of 2022 to address the proliferation of illegally-operating so-called “gifting” shops due to the congressional budget rider blocking the District from creating a regulated and taxable system for adults to sell marijuana recreationally. These shops currently operate without health or safety oversight, and consumers are vulnerable to cannabis of unknown quality and origin. In some instances, the lack of regulation has also created serious public safety concerns.
Councilmember Allen’s emergency legislation grants the Alcohol Beverage and Cannabis Administration (“ABCA”) the ability to enforce against both licensed and unlicensed businesses selling or “gifting” marijuana.
“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. However, as the application period has opened in the past several weeks, it has quicky become clear we need to create a strong and unambiguous enforcement mechanism for shops that still choose to operate illegally,” said Councilmember Allen. “Many of these establishments were formed by small business owners and deserve an opportunity to become licensed. With this legislation, we’re cleaning up gaps in the process that implementation has shed light on and stepping up enforcement. The goal is to create an enforcement scheme for cannabis that more closely mirrors how we regulate the sale of alcohol for bars and liquor stores in the District, and in doing so, create safer neighborhoods for everyone.”
The Medical Cannabis Enforcement Emergency Amendment Act of 2024 would:
- Empower the Alcoholic Beverage and Cannabis Administration (“ABCA”) to issue warnings, fines, and cease and desist orders to unlicensed businesses that have not applied to become licensed under the District’s Medical Cannabis Program.
- Mirror several provisions from the District’s Alcohol Code enforcement scheme and apply them to the enforcement of medical cannabis. These include:
- Giving ABCA and MPD authority to inspect an establishment’s books and records;
- Authorizing the seizure of cannabis manufactured, sold, or exchanged in violation of the Medical Cannabis Program; and
- Requiring the Department of Licensing and Consumer Protection (DLCP), Office of Tax and Revenue, and the Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department to notify ABCA if a licensed establishment violates one of the listed agencies’ rules within 30 calendar days.
- Prohibit unlicensed establishments from displaying signs or imagery advertising cannabis or cannabis products, or advertising themselves as “I-71 compliant.”
- Allow affected ANCs in neighborhoods where unlicensed establishments are applying to become medical establishments to provide input, similar to the ANC input process when considering liquor licenses.
- Transfer authority to issue fines to commercial property owners for unlicensed establishments operating on their properties from DLCP to ABCA.
“I’d like to emphasize that we’re only in this situation because of Congress’ ongoing hypocrisy maintaining a budget rider since 2015 blocking a legal, safe marijuana market in the District, even as 24 states have since gone on to legalize marijuana as a regulated product,” said Councilmember Allen. “I’d like to thank my colleagues Chairman Mendelson and Councilmember McDuffie for their partnership to guide the District through this frustrating challenge. And I can't emphasize enough how much that barrier has created very real public health and safety challenges we're dealing with in several DC neighborhoods, including across Capitol Hill. Today’s legislation will go a long way to close gaps and ensure enforcement against unlicensed and illegal cannabis shops can take place.”
Councilmember Allen plans to introduce a permanent version of the legislation in the coming weeks.