Sales of equipment to grow the plants indoors are booming,
bartenders are getting joints as tips and the city council is
deliberating whether to license cannabis clubs.
Both smokers and police complain that the city's ban on sales,
imposed by congressional conservatives, are leaving residents to
bump up against legal limits around the drug.
"It is kind of the Alice in Wonderland of cannabis legalization.
It's like there's all these rules and regulations that no one
follows," said Alex Jeffrey, executive director of DC NORML, a
marijuana reform advocacy group.
Possession and transfer of small amounts of marijuana became legal
in the city of 660,000 people on Feb. 26, 2015, following
overwhelming approval in a 2014 referendum. The states of Colorado,
Washington, Oregon and Alaska have also made pot lawful for
recreational use through referendums, although it remains illegal
under federal law.
Those states have cleared the way for sales of pot, creating a
bustling trade in smokable and edible versions of the drug.
Campaigns are under way in a half-dozen other U.S. states, including
California and Massachusetts, to place legalization initiatives on
ballots this November.
Last year Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser and other city leaders
limited pot to home cultivation and consumption when Congress, which
has oversight over the heavily Democratic city, blocked sales
through a rider, or add-on, to a spending bill.
Before legalization, city finance officials estimated the District
marijuana market at $130 million a year.
"This limbo that we're in because of the congressional rider is
untenable," said District Council member Brianne Nadeau. "It's a big
Nadeau and other lawmakers voted unanimously this month to study
whether to license private pot clubs.
Proponents say the clubs would provide a place to smoke for people
living in federal public housing or who do not want to smoke in
front of their children.
GROW YOUR OWN
The Washington law has meant a "green rush" of cultivation in
basements, bedrooms and closets. The 2015 District of Columbia State
Fair even started a "Best Bud" marijuana category.
Pot advocates estimate that from 500 to 1,000 people are growing for
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One grower, a 29-year-old retail worker, last month tended
5-foot-high (1.5-meter high) plants thriving inside black grow tents
in a bedroom that had a whiff of fertilizer and was cluttered with
chemicals, security cameras and LED lamps.
The rewiring job to handle the power load was paid for in pot. Part
of the harvest goes to backers who helped bankroll his $25,0000 in
"It sucks because we have to create these very convoluted, weird
explanations in order to dance around the weak laws that are around
right now," said the man, who asked that his name not be used.
Sales of pot-growing equipment have boomed. Capital City Hydroponics
now sells as many starter kits in a day as it did in a typical week
before legalization, said clerk John Diango.
"All walks of life come in here, young to old, all classes, all
creeds and colors," he said.
Just 276 people were arrested for pot-related violations in the
District last year, down from 4,814 in 2011, according to federal
Leroy Burton, a former head of the District's police union, said
that before pot was legal, officers had been able to use possession
as leverage against suspects. That edge is now gone, he said.
One of the rare arrests came in December, when two men were busted
for providing "Kush God" brand pot brownies and gummies to passersby
out of cars for weeks in exchange for donations. Police seized the
pair's Lexus and two Mercedes cars, all decorated with images of
(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Scott Malone and James
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