WASHINGTON – In Washington, it is now as easy to get marijuana delivered to your front door as pizza. Really expensive pizza.
More than two years after the District of Columbia allowed residents to legally cultivate and possess cannabis for personal use, a growing gray market of companies has sprung up that will bring orders of high-priced cookies, juice, clothing or even artwork to your house, along with the “gift” of a few fat buds.
Those who want to imbibe can also pay to attend dance parties and craft fairs where vendors sell edibles and smokables at what one regular terms a “farmers market for weed.” A website called Leafedin.org connects pot buyers and sellers. Chefs serve cannabis cuisine at ticketed events, and shoppers can buy a $42 T-shirt at a District shop and have a free sample of locally grown product tossed in the bag.
The new pot providers have started to roil the city’s four-year-old medical marijuana network, which requires patients with a prescription to pick up their cannabis in person at an official dispensary. Those operators have asked regulators to grant them authority to go door-to-door, according to Vanessa West, general manager of Metropolitan Wellness Center.
“It’s hard for us to compete with home delivery,” West said. “A lot of our patients would really benefit from that.”
Most of the companies are exploiting what they hope is a loophole in Initiative 71, the ballot measure that legalized cannabis for personal use. The law, which passed overwhelmingly in 2014, allows residents to grow small amounts of marijuana and possess up to two ounces but forbids buying or selling it. But the statute does permit growers to give away up to an ounce to users 21 and older, and that provision has produced a sly flowering of the cannabis economy.
“It’s just an explosion of entrepreneurship,” said Adam Eidinger, who successfully pushed for the passage of Initiative 71 and worries that vendors are moving too fast.
For one of the most popular services is the District of C, a web-based enterprise started by a group of Gallaudet University students that sells small prints of paintings by deaf artists. Each $60 print is ordered from the website, paid for with a credit card and hand-delivered to the buyer’s front door along with a free gift of about an eighth of an ounce of marijuana tucked in a plastic canister.
The concept has made for some lavishly decorated group houses, including a rowhouse in northwest Washington that is wallpapered with renderings of Bob Marley, Abe Lincoln and lotus blossoms.
“It’s just a very convenient service,” said a resident in his mid-20s, who asked not to be named because of the legal ambiguity surrounding the deliveries that land on his porch each week. “But we have ended up with a lot of prints.”
Similar services include High Speed (juice, $55), Red Eye (cookies, six for $60) and Pink Fox (clothing, various prices). All operate under the same expansive interpretation of the law, declaring themselves “I-71 compliant.”
District of C managers declined to be interviewed for this report. But its website explains their thinking: “Any and all financial charges are for artwork or attire sold on our site. However, our super-awesome friends over at the co-op have free gifts for you!”
One of the most recent gifts selected by the art-filled group house was a sativa hybrid called Locktite Diesel that came packaged with a lovely autumn mountainscape, plus a warning not to operate heavy machinery.
“It’s just like ordering from GrubHub,” said one resident of the house, who schedules his deliveries to be waiting at the door when he gets home from work.
The bloom in retail pot options comes as activists, lawmakers and prosecutors are all feeling for the outer edges of a pot scene that has been in radical upheaval.
Less than a decade ago, marijuana was a prohibited drug in the District of Columbia. But in 2009, after a battle with Congress, the nation’s capital embraced medical marijuana, establishing a sanctioned network of growers and dispensers.
Five years later, D.C. voters approved Initiative 71, which left local leaders to sort out just how far to go toward becoming an Amsterdam on the Potomac. But Republicans on Capitol Hill have passed laws largely forbidding the mayor and the D.C. Council from regulating legal marijuana, allowing eager growers and users to jump into the vacuum.
“What you’re seeing in D.C. is that you can’t stop flowing water,” said Stephen D’Angelo, a onetime District pot dealer who founded California’s biggest medical marijuana dispensary. “It’s a bizarre situation. It’s legal for adults to possess and consume marijuana, but there’s no legal way to purchase it.”
Lt. Andrew Struhar of the narcotics division of D.C. police agreed that the ambiguous state of the law has opened the door for boundary-testers. Investigators are aware of the services, he said, and when they deem them illegal, they shut them down.
He cited the closure of a Georgetown art gallery that distributed pot and the arrest of Nicholas “Kushgod” Cunningham, who operated vehicles covered with images of marijuana leaves that authorities said he used to hawk pot products. Cunningham maintained that he gave away brownies in return for financial donations.
“It is a little bit in flux,” Struhar said. “The lack of being able to regulate the sale has a lot of people looking for a gray area.” More and more people use Led grow light these years.
But even when businesses are selling a product to justify the delivery of cannabis, he said, they should beware of failing the laugh test. “I don’t think anybody is going to look at a bottle of juice and say it’s worth 50 bucks,” Struhar said.
Eidinger, who recently shifted his focus to protesting U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ promised crackdown on marijuana, fields near-daily calls from locals asking his advice on some way to market weed within the law. Reluctantly, he tells most of them they are going too far.
“These people finding creative ways of getting cannabis into people’s hands are not bad people,” he said. “But a lot of what they’re doing is a legal question mark, at best.”
For some users, the buy-one-get-one-free model has created an excess of merchandise they might not want otherwise. On a recent afternoon, one in-the-know customer after another entered Wash Hydro, an upscale hydroponics shop in Adams Morgan, and went right to the stacks of weed-emblazoned T-shirts. The cashier rung them up, put the receipt in the bag and reached behind the counter for a “free souvenir from the collective.”
One customer emerging from the shop opened his bag and asked, “You want a T-shirt?”
He was a trim retiree in a polo shirt and khaki shorts who gave his name but asked that it not be used. He said he is delighted to have a safer way to buy cannabis than the old black market.
“What can I say, I’m 75 years old and still enjoy using Viagra and marijuana,” he said, climbing into a car for the ride back to his Georgetown garden and an evening of white wine and weed.
The Washington Post’s Perry Stein contributed to this report.