How To (Sort of) Legally Sell Weed In DC


How would you like to quit your job and become a drug dealer?  That’s a rhetorical question, obviously.  Everyone wants to quit their job and become a drug dealer.  It’s the new American Dream.  Kids who used to tell their parents they wanted to be an astronaut or play for the New York Yankees when they grew up are now like, “when I grow up I want to get a respectable white collar office job, become cynical and disillusioned with life, and then find myself by becoming a drug dealer!”

And now you can!  Sort of!  Weed is now legal in DC, but selling it is not;  still, any reasonably ambitious person can see that there’s a chasm of wiggle room between those two statements.  In fact, there are dozens of businesspeople already selling weed right out in the open on DC streets.  So, how, exactly, does one go about amassing a Walter White-level fortune while obeying the letter of the law?  Read on, you scheming capitalist …

  donate-img“ASK” FOR “DONATIONS”

This is one of the most popular methods at the present moment.  If you’re “asking” for a “donation,” you’re not selling anything.  The other person is “voluntarily” handing over money, and you might then spontaneously reward their voluntary generosity with, say, a “gift.”  So for an eighth of marijuana, you could “suggest” a “donation” of $40.  And this would technically be legal.

This model is familiar to anyone who’s ever gone to a New York City museum.  These places generally have a podium in front with a stern, glaring attendant behind it, and a sign “suggesting” a “donation.”  If you give less, they’ll sigh and look at you like you just tried to lick their face.  But the thing is, they’ll let you go in.  They can’t require you to pay an admission fee, usually to either protect nonprofit status or because they’ve struck a deal with the local authorities to let people in for free in exchange for tax exemptions.  (In NYC, the Met gets free rent on its massive Fifth Avenue spot in exchange for letting people in for free.)  This points out a potentially serious flaw in this model of pot-dealing:  people could refuse to “donate” but still demand weed, and if you refused (which you obviously would), that could potentially expose you to legal consequences.  Would the police bother arresting you for this?  Maybe, if someone brought you to their attention.  Assuming that the city hasn’t legalized dealing because it’s working out a strategy to monetize the marijuana industry (official licensing, “vendors,” et cetera), they would probably jump all over someone trying to get a head start.  And just like there’s always that dude in the museum who smirkingly drops a penny on the donation counter and then strolls in, you know there’ll be someone who hands you a five for a half-ounce and shrugs.

6a01053686a547970c017d3e73793e970c-piTHE OL’ BAIT-AND-SWITCH

This is another one that’s already popped up around DC;  buy a t-shirt and get a “free gift” of a baggie of weed.  Since you’re technically buying the t-shirt, this is, technically, legal.  This is actually just a more up-front version of, like, every luxury purchase ever.  I mean, when you buy a Louis Vuitton bag, you’re not actually buying a bag, you’re buying prestige.  When you buy a bottle of perfume, you’re not buying a little bottle of scented water, you’re buying an air of mystery/sensuality.  When you buy a vintage item of clothing, you’re not buying an old musty-smelling sweater, you’re buying a signifier of taste.  This principle is literally the foundation of capitalism:  “sell the sizzle, not the steak.”

Unfortunately, even though this model is pretty much ubiquitous in the marketplace, it’s not very solid ground, legally.  To explain, I went to my favorite local lawyer, Daniel Hornal, Managing Partner at Talos Law, a broad-based people’s law firm in DC.  “Typically, courts look to the substance of a transaction, not just its form,” said Hornal.  “If the dealer’s intent is to sell the weed and it’s your intent to buy it, the dealer is still committing a crime.”  So yeah, if you’re reading this, t-shirt weed stand dudes:  you better put some bail money aside.

544647-6e4e4cc4-aa43-11e3-9a89-1de6a43f024eSELL MEMBERSHIPS IN AN EXCLUSIVE “WEED CLUB”

This is the gold standard of pot-selling loopholes.  Not only do you circumvent the “no selling” prohibition by selling “club memberships” – of course, one of the perks of this club just so happens to be free weed – but as any business owner will tell you, the key to success is repeat customers.  And what better way to capture repeat customers than locking them into a monthly reoccurring membership fee?

All you do is cultivate some plants, staggering your planting so they don’t all mature at once, and then after each harvest, you just make a round of deliveries to your “club members.”  Since you’re just handing over a gift basket of weed, and no money is changing hands at that time, you’re pretty safe from a legal standpoint.  And if you rely on referrals for new members, you’re virtually guaranteed to steer clear of law enforcement.  There are already several of these operating in DC.  Good luck getting a referral into one.


Something to keep in mind – pot is legal according to DC law, but not under federal law.  If you’re going to be a mobile seller, you need to pick your locations carefully.  “Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, and there are federal cops that have jurisdiction in all sorts of unexpected places in DC,” lawyer Hornal says.  “In front of certain buildings, and in almost every public park.”  So, basically, if you post up on the steps of the Capitol with a basket full of magic brownies, you’re going to get arrested even if you’re only “suggesting” a “donation.”

Still, although this all sounds a bit confusing and even sinister, you have nothing to worry about if you’re buying.  The law forbids selling only. “If DC police start cracking down – and it seems like they have bigger problems they need to deal with – the only person violating the law as currently interpreted by the DC police would be the seller,” said Hornal.  Hey, if you’re going out for some, can you bring me some back too?  My motivation is shot lately for some reason.

One response to “How To (Sort of) Legally Sell Weed In DC

  1. Pingback: URBAN SCRAWL’S 10 MOST READ POSTS OF 2016 – urbanscrawldcblog·

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