The District of Columbia could soon earn a new nickname: the Wild West of marijuana.
In 10 days, a voter-approved initiative to legalize marijuana will take effect, D.C. officials say. Residents and visitors old enough to drink a beer will be able to possess enough pot to roll 100 joints. They will be able to carry it, share it, smoke it and grow it.
By late summer, the first crop of legal, home-grown District bud could start peeking out from balconies and backyards within view of the U.S. Capitol.
But it’s entirely unclear how anyone will obtain it. Unlike the four states where voters have approved recreational pot use, the District government has been barred from establishing rules governing how marijuana will be sold. It was prohibited from doing so by Congress, which has jurisdiction over the city.
Colorado marijuana facts
In December, after voters overwhelmingly approved a referendum to legalize pot use, opponents in Congress tried to upend the result by blocking any new rules establishing legal ways to sell it, protections for those caught purchasing it or taxes to cover its social costs.
D.C. officials say that Congress’s action did not halt the initiative, but it did set the city up for potential chaos. Barring last-minute federal intervention, the District’s attorney general said that pot will become legal as early as Feb. 26 without any regulations in place to govern a new marketplace that is likely to explode into view.
Even some supporters of the initiative are worried. At best, they predict an uncertain free-for-all where marijuana enthusiasts immediately start growing and smoking at home — and testing the limits of a law that does not allow for public consumption or sale. At worst, they say, as entrepreneurs push ahead with the business of pot, unregulated businesses will start popping up with no means to judge the safety of their product.
Two ballrooms on Capitol Hill are already reserved for a pot expo on Feb. 28. A date for a massive marijuana seed giveaway is in the works for early March. Some are planning “cannabis clubs” with membership fees and access to the plant. Others hope to offer high-end catered dinners cooked in marijuana-infused oils; recently, an underground test dinner was served a mile and a half north of the White House.
“Where can it be bought? Sold? Eaten? Smoked? We’re not going to have answers to any of that, and that makes me very concerned,” said Council member David Grosso, independent. And as the consequences play out in the nation’s capital, he said, it could set back the entire movement: “Let’s be responsible about how we do this so we don’t have a negative image coming out.”