The short answer is no. It remains illegal to smoke marijuana in the District of Columbia under both local and federal law. The District has seen a sea change in marijuana laws over the last few years but smoking in public remains illegal. It started in 2014 when the City Council passed a bill that decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana. The difference between decriminalization and legalization is that under a decriminalization scheme, citizens caught with weed can be given a citation—something akin to a speeding ticket.
With a ticket (or civil infraction) there is no legal possibility to go to jail as a result of committing the offense. The decriminalization law did not last long as later that year marijuana activists got Proposition 71 put on the ballot. The voters in DC overwhelmingly passed Proposition 71, which created full out legalization of possession of small amounts and the ability to grow a set number of plants in your home.
What is Considered Smoking “in Public” under the Law?
Now, back to whether you can smoke in public. Again, the answer is an unequivocal no. The District’s law is modeled after a similar law regarding possessing open containers of alcohol in public (or “POCA”). Like the POCA statute, it remains a criminal offense to smoke marijuana in any street, alley, park, sidewalk, or parking area. In addition, it is illegal to smoke marijuana in a privately accessible public place (like a bar, social club, or store). It is also illegal to smoke weed in a vehicle. Finally, DUI marijuana remains a serious crime that is prosecuted just like an alcohol-based DUI.
What is the penalty for smoking marijuana in public?
Under the statute that criminalizes smoking marijuana in public (D.C. Code § 48-911.01), the maximum penalty for smoking marijuana in public is 60 days in jail or a maximum $500.00 fine. The authority to prosecute these cases rests with the District of Columbia Office of Attorney General. In many cases, the prosecutor may offer diversion for first-time offenders. That means the prosecutor will dismiss the case in exchange for the defendant completing community service or paying a fine. However, repeat offenders could face more serious prosecution.
Can you sell marijuana in DC?
Legalization has not come without cost. Republicans in Congress have blocked the District’s ability to pass laws creating a regulatory mechanism for distributing marijuana. Accordingly, possession with intent to distribute and distribution remain illegal and arrestable offenses.
Makes perfect sense, right? Legalize something to create more demand and keep the distribution of that criminalized.
Unfortunately, as many local DC residents know, the United States Congress retains the legal ability to meddle and interfere with local affairs. Therefore, despite the legalization of possession, no legal mechanism exists to distribute marijuana for recreational purposes.
Is marijuana in DC still illegal under federal law?
Yes. Despite progress made at the local level, marijuana very much remains illegal all over the United States under federal law. You may be wondering why more people are not arrested for possession. It basically comes down to a matter of resources. The federal law enforcement agencies tend to focus on more serious drug trafficking offenses. However, at any time, these agencies could shift priorities and take a more serious enforcement approach. Most people would view this as a colossal waste of resources and likely come with a heavy political cost.
Finally, it’s important to possess and toke up with caution. Despite the tremendous progress that has been made over the years, marijuana issues are still a legal minefield. Accordingly, it’s also important to contact a DC marijuana lawyer to know the risks especially if you have been arrested. Contact Scrofano Law PC today for a full case evaluation.