Ryan Ha wasn’t cut out for a nine to five life.
He tried it in earnest for two years, working for a software company and saving paychecks, but the University of Michigan graduate spent his days dreaming about the distant prospect of retirement.
Eventually, he hit a breaking point. So in 2014, drawing on his knowledge of the gig economy as a delivery driver for Postmates and of the city as a longtime resident of North Cleveland Park, he decided to bring his energy and street smarts to the District’s burgeoning weed industry.
“It’s kind of like the wild, wild west,” Ha said. “You get to be there first and create the rules.”
Ha founded Dreamy DC, a self-described “talent agency for motivational speakers in the D.C. metro area.” Customers input their phone number and address on Dreamy’s website and – typically within a half hour or less – a bike courier or delivery driver arrives at a location of their choice to read an inspiring quote off their phone.
The concept of a delivery service for speeches may seem unusual to some, but customers aren’t really flocking to Dreamy for a $60 inspirational quote. They know it better as a fast and easy-to-use weed delivery service with quality flower.
After delivering the speech, Dreamy messengers offer customers a free “gift” of weed. Some would argue you’re really just paying for the weed, but the “gifting” dance helps shield D.C. cannabis businesses from legal repercussions.
Though selling recreational weed in D.C. is technically prohibited, a small provision in Initiative 71, a ballot initiative that legalized possession in the District, allows for the “gifting” of small quantities of cannabis. Since I-71 passed in 2014, dozens of cannabis storefronts have popped up across the District, using the “gifting” loophole to offer pot with the purchase of a small item, like a sticker, t-shirt or potted plant.
D.C. police usually turn a blind eye to the activities of “gifting” shops – also known as the gray market for weed – but their proliferation has irked some local officials. In November, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson made an unsuccessful legislative push to crack down on “gifting” businesses. The Council is also considering a bill, introduced by Mendelson himself, to legalize and regulate recreational cannabis sales. As it stands, the legislation would effectively close the “gifting” loophole and push gray market businesses to obtain city permits.
Ha insists his business is firmly not part of the gray market because Dreamy drivers, who are employed as freelance contractors, clock out as soon as they’ve delivered their speech. So, at least in his view, any gifting that happens after that is technically off the clock.
“We’re not even trying to do the gifting system,” said the 33-year-old, who sports long braids and rides a skateboard emblazoned with his company’s logo. “If Josh wants to give weed, that’s on Josh, OK. But don’t you dare do that while you’re working for me or Dreamy,” he added.
Technicalities aside, Dreamy has emerged as one of the District’s most popular cannabis delivery services, running an effective word-of-mouth strategy and tirelessly handing out free joints around town – from the farmers market in Dupont Circle to Malcolm X Park.
Since delivering its first speech in 2016, the company has managed to avoid some of the legal issues that other gray market businesses have endured, like police raids where cops confiscate loads of cash and cannabis, and often hand out felony trafficking charges.
Ha said that’s because Dreamy DC has always played it by the book.
“Could they raid me? Yes. Could they get a warrant, all that stuff? Yes. But it’s up for the court to decide,” Ha said. “I think what we’re doing is the legal way, but I could be wrong.”
In the company’s early days, Ha spent over a year looking for a lawyer and hammering out the legal details of his service. A friend helped him code the website and develop an algorithm capable of matching couriers to customers based on proximity.
Ha’s insistent that the motivational speech component of Dreamy DC isn’t a gimmick. He often plays the part of spokesman and carnival barker, traveling all over the city to tout his service and evangelizing new hires to break free from the shackles of a nine to five schedule and embrace the gig economy lifestyle.
“If you’re spending your money from Dreamy on material items and going to the club and popping bottles and stuff, then you don’t fit the mold… But if you’re trying to buy your freedom, that’s what we do.”
As D.C. weighs authorizing recreational weed sales and the prospect of federal legalization looms, Ha said he’s hopeful Dreamy DC can be part of a regulated market in whatever form it takes.
He keeps close track of legislative developments at the D.C. Council, and said he supports policies that give aspiring entrepreneurs a fair shot at being successful in the cannabis industry. However, he said he’s less inclined to support social equity provisions that give a boost to people formerly incarcerated for cannabis offenses and other communities harmed by prohibition.
“You either have a million dollars in the bank or you know people, but can a regular person do it?” said Ha. “What you gotta do is make the barriers to entry so low, so the people with that mind, that entrepreneurial spirit, they’re the ones that are going to come out on top.”