In 2015, Washington DC Ballot Initiative 71 decriminalized the possession of personal amounts of marijuana and allows adults over 21 to use and grow marijuana in their own homes, within limits. Sale, purchase, and public use of recreational marijuana is still prohibited. Medical marijuana is available for qualified patients with a doctor’s recommendation. Read on to see how new DC weed laws continue to expand the legality of cannabis.

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Qualifying Debilitating Medical Conditions

The first ballot initiative to legalize medical marijuana in Washington DC was approved by 69% of voters in 1998, but the congressional passage of the Barr Amendment effectively halted its application for over a decade. This amendment prohibited the district from using funds to implement a medical marijuana program and was overturned in 2009. The Council of the District of Columbia passed a bill to legalize the use of medical marijuana in May 2010. Qualifying medical conditions for a medical marijuana prescription initially included:  

  • Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)  
  • Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS)
  • Glaucoma  
  • Conditions characterized by severe and persistent muscle spasms, such as multiple sclerosis  
  • Cancer 

Qualifying medical treatments include any of the following:  

  • Chemotherapy  
  • Use of azidothymidine or protease inhibitors  
  • Radiotherapy

In 2014, the Medical Marijuana Advisory Committee passed emergency legislation to expand the number of qualifying conditions to include conditions such as epilepsy and PTSD.

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Applying for A Medical Marijuana Card in DC

Obtaining a medical marijuana card is a simple and straightforward process. The applicant must be a bona fide resident of Washington DC. You’ll need to visit a licensed physician who will go over your medical history and discuss the use of medical marijuana. If your doctor determines that medical marijuana is an appropriate treatment for you, they will provide a signed recommendation. Once you have acquired this recommendation, simply fill out the district’s patient application form and provide two forms of identification to prove residency. The fee to apply is $100 or $25 for qualifying low-income patients.  As of 2019, non-residents may purchase from a dispensary if they have a medical card from any state with an equivalent medical marijuana program. Medical patients may purchase up to four ounces of cannabis in a 30-day period.

Possession and Purchasing Limits

Adults, aged 21 and over, may possess two ounces or less of marijuana without penalty. It is also legal to possess marijuana-related paraphernalia including rolling papers, wraps, pipes and bongs if you are over 21.  Presently, it is illegal to sell or purchase recreational marijuana in DC. Sale, distribution, or possession with intent to distribute carries a maximum sentence of 5 years in prison and a maximum fine of $50,000. First offenders with no prior distribution convictions who are caught with half a pound of marijuana or less may be sentenced to no more than 6 months imprisonment and/or a $1000 fine. In May 2019, Mayor Muriel Bowser proposed the Safe Cannabis Sales Act. In a press release, Bowser stated: “In addition to providing safety and clarity, the Safe Cannabis Sales Act will promote equity by ensuring that the benefits of this new system – from jobs to revenue – go to communities that have been disproportionately hurt by marijuana criminalization...” The Act would tax the sale of cannabis at a rate of 17%. Once enacted, adults 21 and over with valid identification may purchase from a cannabis facility, or order products online for home delivery. The daily purchasing limits are:

  • 1 oz of usable cannabis flower
  • 5 grams of cannabis concentrate
  • 16 oz of cannabis-infused edibles
  • 72 oz of cannabinoid product in liquid form

The Mayor plans to reinvest the revenue generated from the sale of recreational marijuana into housing programs which will benefit residents of DC, especially those who have been disproportionately impacted by cannabis prohibition.


The consumption of marijuana is only legal on private property. This applies to both medical and recreational marijuana. Public use is typically handled with a cite and release procedure. It should be noted that marijuana is still federally illegal, and the District of Columbia is comprised of about 20% federal land. Park rangers and other federal officials may arrest anyone possessing or using marijuana on federal property.

Cannabis Transport and Delivery

Presently, it is legal to transfer one ounce or less of marijuana to another person who is at least 21 years old, so long as there is no payment made or any other type of exchange of goods or services.  Unofficial cannabis sellers have used this provision as a legal loophole by organizing “pop-ups” (temporary shops) where purchasers pay for a small trinket, such as a bumper sticker, and receive marijuana as a “free gift with purchase.” Raids of these pop-ups have occurred, however, and arrests have been made. If implemented, The Safe Cannabis Sales Act seeks to regulate the sale of marijuana, eliminating the need for recreational marijuana users to participate in such clandestine operations.

Driving Under the Influence

All states prohibit driving under the influence of a controlled substance, and the District of Columbia is no exception. It is a crime to operate a vehicle or boat under the influence of marijuana in Washington DC.

Exporting Cannabis

It is illegal to export marijuana outside of the District of Columbia. While the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment prohibits the Department of Justice from using funds to enforce federal marijuana laws in states that have legalized medical marijuana, interstate marijuana commerce is still strictly prohibited. 

Personal Cultivation

Adults over the age of 21 may grow marijuana plants in their personal residence, within limits. DC residents may cultivate up to six marijuana plants, however, no more than three plants can be mature at any given time. The maximum number of plants for all residents within a single-family dwelling may not exceed twelve, and no more than six may be mature at any given time.