The Gold (Kush) Rush

Cannabis / Marijuana
Photo by Willpower Studios.

You may have noticed a sharp increase in the number of marijuana-oriented shops opening in Georgetown in the recent months. I can count at least five new shops I’ve noticed. They are all the product of a new gold rush that sprung up in response to a new law passed by the DC Council last year.

But first, some background. As you may know, DC legalized medical marijuana back in 2009. It actually voted to legalize medical marijuana by way of a voter initiative in 1998, but Congressional interference meant the DC was barred from actually counting the votes on that initiative until 2009. (Congressional interference will be a theme here). Following the legalization of medical marijuana, DC authorized a small number of dispensaries to sell pot to people with approved medical conditions.

Then in 2014 voters were asked to decide on a new initiative: I-71. This would fully legalized the possession and use of marijuana for purely recreational purposes. It was approved, and despite efforts from various Republican Congressmen, the initiative became law. However, those same Congressmen, led by Maryland rep Andy Harris, inserted a rider into DC’s budget bill to prohibit the city from passing a law to legalize the sale of recreational pot.

So possession and use of pot for recreational uses was legal, but the sale of it was prohibited. Into this uncertainty entered “gifting shops”, otherwise known as I-71 shops. These shops operate on the flimsy pretense that they are not selling marijuana. Rather, they claim, they are selling you art, t-shirt, weird candy (or whatever) and as a bonus they throw in some free marijuana. This is the business model for all of the pot shops you see in Georgetown (and the rest of DC).

While the DC government has largely tolerated these shops, complaints about them have grown louder and louder. Last year, DC Council chairman Phil Mendelson proposed to crack down harshly on the I-71 gift shops. However a deal was worked out in the form of the Medical Cannabis Amendment Act of 2022. Under this legislation, the city will greatly expand the number of medical marijuana shops in the city. Before the legislation, there was a cap on seven medical marijuana shops across the whole city. Now there will be no cap. Additionally, whereas before you needed a doctor’s note to qualify for medical marijuana, now you can simply self-certify.

In effect, since the city is barred from legalizing the sale of recreational pot, it is expanding the “medical” marijuana market instead, with extremely heavy emphasis on the air quotes.

Additionally, after this new market is created, the city is intending to finally crack down heavily on the gray market of the i-71 shops and drive them out of business. (Whether it actually will crack down remains to be seen).

This will be great news for the shops that actually snag a new dispensary license. While federal prohibitions will continue to complicate matters, the shops that get these licenses will be able to operate much more openly and in the light, at least from a DC perspective.

But while the cap on dispensaries has been removed, that doesn’t mean every business that seeks a dispensary license will get it. For one thing, under the new law, the shops cannot be within 400 feet of another dispensary. For perspective, right now there are at least four I-71 shops on the 1600 block of Wisconsin Ave., all within 400 feet of each other. Under the new law, only one of them can remain.

In terms of actually getting these new licenses, the law give priority to I-71 shops that were in business (and paying taxes) as of December 31, 2022. If you noticed a rush of shops opening up late last year, there’s your explanation.

So long story short, if things go as planned, in the near future we will have more medical marijuana shops that will operate without the gray area of the gifting shops. And we will no longer have those gray area shops around.

That’s the plan, at least…



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3 responses to “The Gold (Kush) Rush

  1. Pingback: The Morning Metropolitan | The Georgetown Metropolitan

  2. Pingback: Where Pot Shops Will Be Banned | The Georgetown Metropolitan

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