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The D.C.’s Cannabis Industry’s Downsides, According to Locals


Washington, D.C. residents just want to get high, but instead all they get are lows when it comes to the local cannabis market. The Outlaw Report spoke to several local residents and activists to learn their thoughts on how Washington, D.C.’s cannabis industry could or should improve over the coming years. Concerning workers’ rights, infrastructure, and local legislation, see what we learned below.

How Cannabis is Legalized

Queen Adesuyi, the policy manager of National Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, told The Outlaw Report that D.C.’s cannabis market is nowhere where it needs to be in terms of what residents voted for when it came to Initiative 71. The current gray market—which permits gifting cannabis, but not the sale of it—is not what the majority of residents expected when voting for Initiative 71.

The legislative text was meant to legalize not only the possession, use, cultivation, and gifting of cannabis, but also the sale of it. Due to a rider imposed by Maryland Rep. Andy Harris, D.C. has been unable to impose a tax-and-regulate system for recreational cannabis since Initiative 71 went into full effect in 2015. 

“It’s really unfortunate because D.C. actually was the first campaign in the U.S. to fight to legalize marijuana based on racial justice and the realities of the way enforcement has played out here in D.C. over the last decade before Initiative 71,” said Adesuyi.

Adesuyi told The Outlaw Report that she views Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Safe Cannabis Sales Act as “a great step,” but, “It doesn’t go far enough.” 

Bowser’s bill would create a “comprehensive regulatory scheme” for the cultivation, manufacturing, and sale of cannabis in the District for non-medical use. If approved, at least 60% of the ownership of each new licensee and 60% of licensed employees would be required to be D.C. residents.

Adesuyi believes that there is some penalty language that should be stripped, and it’s “not as imaginative as it could be” on the community reinvestment fund.

Grosso’s bill, the Marijuana Legalization and Regulation Act, “feels like a better starting point,” according to Adesuyi. Under this bill, possession, consumption, display, purchasing, or transporting of cannabis and cannabis-infused products for personal use would be legalized. All cannabis arrest, prosecution, and conviction records would be expunged. Furthermore, a “dedicated marijuana fund” would be created to go towards a variety of programs, including a community-based nonprofit organization to support those who have been disproportionately affected by the nation’s and city’s drug policies.

Read more about what pro-cannabis legislation to keep an eye on in this article from The Outlaw Report.

How Cannabis is Prohibited

Doretha Barber, an employee at the D.C. Department of Public Works (DPW), takes issue with the city’s policy on local government workers’ ability to use cannabis. In October of 2019, she filed a lawsuit against the District with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union of D.C. that alleged that she was discriminated against due to being a member of the District’s medical cannabis program. 

As a sanitation worker, Barber’s position is categorized as “safety-sensitive,” which means that she is prohibited from participating in the medical cannabis program. The lawsuit states that Barber suffers from degenerative disc disease, which causes back spasms and triggers migraines.

With the help of medical cannabis, Barber said, “It was an overall better experience for me,” because she was able to get a better night’s sleep, wake up with no back pain, and work regularly. Her physician recommended the medical cannabis program to her after her traditional medicine stopped working as effectively.

DCist reported that DPW’s human resources instructed Barber to no longer participate in the program and that she needed to find a different medicine for her back condition. She was later instructed to pass a drug test and attend substance abuse counseling before returning to work. During this time, she was instructed to use her paid leave if she had any remaining, which she did not.

“I think that the generalization of putting everybody that doesn’t sit behind a desk under the category of ‘safety-sensitive’ is completely wrong and unfair to those that need the medical marijuana to be able to function, to be able to control their pain or whatever they’re going through,” said Barber. “My position as a safety-sensitive worker has nothing to do with what the definition of safety-sensitive means.”

Michael Perloff, Barber’s lawyer at the ACLU of D.C., told The Outlaw Report, “we are asking the city in this lawsuit to lead not only in terms of ensuring that people can purchase their medication by making it legal to do so, but by not taking away that right in a backhanded way by punishing their employees who attempt to make the most of their legal opportunity. I think that the medical marijuana program has to be looked at in conjunction with the rights for those who are trying to use it, and our concern here is that those rights are not adequately protected.”

How Cannabis is Grown

Adam Eidinger, a cannabis activist who is known for spearheading Initiative 71, said that he’s frustrated with how warehouses in D.C. and other parts of the country are dedicated to growing plants indoors. 

“It’s a huge downside to legalization if you ask me,” Eidinger said. He argued instead for the Sun+Earth organic certification program, which is a “high bar” for farmers, requiring cannabis to be grown under the sun and in the soil because “it’s very hard to grow organically indoors,” according to Eidinger. 

Nonprofit Brother David’s established the Sun+Earth program in January 2019 with standards on soil fertility, pest control materials, workers’ rights, community engagement, and more. 

Eidinger says he takes no issue with home cultivation, but he expects “corporate” cannabis to fade over time. 

“All of the people who invested in Wall Street brands are going to continue to lose money this year,” said Eidinger, who speculates that there will be a growth of cannabis companies going bankrupt sometime sooner rather than later.

Photo via Lukasz Stefanski/Shutterstock

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