Updated: Sep 14
Late last summer, Glover Park’s Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC3B) voted to oppose the applications of two Medical Marijuana Dispensaries (MMD) vying for the one Ward 3 license to be awarded by the renamed Alcoholic Beverage and Cannabis Administration (ABCA) and seeking to locate their store in Glover Park. A pot store has opened anyway, outside of the MMD regulatory framework, at 2428 Wisconsin Avenue above Moge Tee. Did this take place legally? Maybe, maybe not. There are two business tracks for marijuana sales in DC – one black-and-white and one that still is a bit of grey area, but has proliferated anyway.
Aaron Rogers (not that Aaron Rodgers...), a Glover Park resident, opened Elevated Lounge above Moge Tee a few months ago and advertises openly online, unlike many such businesses in the past, who were a bit more subtle. He takes advantage of DC’s “Initiative 71” passed in 2014 and which was intended to allow legal personal usage, growing and sharing of weed within the confines of one’s home. Well, as is the case with many such laws hastily written and pushed through without a thorough impact review, it has come under the “Law of Unintended Consequences” – in particular the passage about the legal sharing of 1 ounce or less of marijuana as long as it is not sold. The one sentence has spawned the proliferation of now 100 “gifting” shops like Elevated Lounge, in which they sell something inconsequential, like artwork or a motivational pamphlet for an elevated price and then gift up to one ounce of marijuana product with it. For example, Elevated Lounge currently offers seven 4-gram (just about 1 ounce) marijuana flower packets for $350 on their website, with the actual item purchased not identified.
This practice is a legal gray area and in the past has resulted in DC police raiding a number of these gifting shops (including one in Glover Park) and arresting the owners, with some even serving jail time. One year ago, DC Council Chair Phil Mendelson put forth a bill to ban these gifting shops as it impinges on the rights of those seeking to sell marijuana the legal way – through regulated MMD’s. The council voted down the bill 8-5, and since then public sentiment has trended away from pursuing and prosecuting non-violent drug offenses, both from the Mayor’s office to the DC Council to the Metropolitan Police Department, which continues to struggle to enforce the rules and pursue less serious crimes across the city when they are short-staffed and dealing with an increase in more serious and violent crimes.
Why would anyone go through the strict, drawn-out and costly process of starting an MMD, which is regulated by ABCA, scrutinized by the ANC’s, limited in proliferation by DC and kept in line by the Department of Health and the Department of Buildings (formerly DCRA)? It costs $8,000 to register, $16,000 to renew each year, and every employee, manager, owner and even each customer must pay up to $200 to participate. On the other hand, a gifting shop only needs to have an LLC registered with DC Corporations, with income tax on the honor system as no agency requires sales receipts reporting. This is another gray area – for example, Elevated Lounge sells food (“marijuana edibles”) but they are not inspected or regulated by DC Health unlike every other food establishment in DC. Opening a retail store at 2428 Wisconsin constituted a “change of use” for the office space – were they required to obtain a new Certificate of Occupancy like the business currently struggling to get approval to sell gyros down the street? One does not exist. Also, they do not need to file reports with ABCA on their sales or their customers.
All this probably explains why there are now 100 gifting shops in DC, while only 7 MMD’s. The one downside is that they walk a thin legal line and it is very easy to make a mistake and potentially run the risk of illegal drug prosecution again. For the time being, the political winds make that seem unlikely as long as owners are diligent about following the implied rules (e.g. never tell anyone you are selling them marijuana). ABCA did announce last summer the creation of a task force to inspect and regulate the gifting shops partly due to complaints about MMD’s following the law but losing business to the unregulated gifters. The ABCA proposal caused a public uproar from supporters of legalized marijuana and the status of the task force now is nowhere to be found on ABCA’s website and the future of the effort is unclear. Maybe the answer is to merge these two tracks and write some clear rules and regulations that apply to everyone. Speaking of Moge Tee - what exactly is cheese foam anyway?