Washington, DC marijuana laws

Published on September 7, 2020 · Last updated June 13, 2023

Current legality status


Cannabis is legal under state law for adults 21+.

Cannabis possession and homegrow are legal for adults 21+.

Adults can additionally gift up to one ounce of flower—or its equivalent in other forms such as edibles and concentrates—to one another. 

Recreational sales remain illegal in Washington, DC, however. But gray area “gifting” dispensaries, where customers buy a small symbolic item that comes with “free” marijuana and marijuana products, continue to thrive in the city.

Marijuana remains prohibited on federal land, however. The federal government owns about one-third of the land in Washington, DC: That includes national parks like Rock Creek Park and the National Mall, military buildings, and government buildings. Since marijuana remains federally illegal, consumers may face federal penalties if caught with marijuana in these areas.

Medical marijuana is legal in Washington, DC. 

Can anyone buy pot or other drugs in DC?

All adults can possess up to two ounces of marijuana for recreational use, as well as paraphernalia. Residents may cultivate up to six plants at home, but only three may be mature. 

In the 2020 election, residents also passed the Entheogenic Plants and Fungus Policy Act, also known as Initiative 81. The policy does not legalize psychedelic (also known as entheogenic) drugs, but makes the policing of them the “lowest enforcement priority” of local law enforcement.

Washington, DC recreational marijuana laws

In 2014, DC Council decriminalized marijuana. The penalty for possession of up to one ounce was reduced to $25.

Later the same year, residents voted in favor of Initiative 71, the Legalization of Possession of Minimal Amounts of Marijuana for Personal Use Initiative of 2014. It passed with nearly two-thirds of the vote. The initiative permitted adults to possess, grow, and gift recreational marijuana. The policy went into effect in 2015.

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How to buy marijuana in Washington, DC

Several dozen “gifting” dispensaries sell marijuana in DC. Since the gifting of marijuana is legal in the District, these businesses argue they are following the law if they charge you for a small gift—such as a sticker or piece of clothing—and then throw in the weed “free of charge.” In April 2022, DC Council attempted—and failed—to pass an emergency bill to shut these businesses down. They will likely try again.

Washington, DC medical marijuana laws

DC residents voted in favor of medical marijuana in 1998, via Initiative 59. Soon thereafter, however, Georgia Congressman Bob Barr (R) blocked DC from implementing the program via the infamous Barr Amendment. 

Tacked onto the Omnibus Consolidated and Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act, the amendment made it illegal to “conduct any ballot initiative which seeks to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties associated with the possession, use, or distribution of any Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act or any tetrahydrocannabinol derivative.” Congress did not overturn the ban until 2009.

In 2010, DC Council passed the Legalization of Marijuana for Medical Treatment Amendment Act. It clarified the provisions of the 1998 legislation, and established regulations for dispensaries. The legislation set possession limits at two ounces for medical patients. 

The first medical dispensary did not open until 2013.

The Medical Marijuana Expansion Emergency Amendment Act of 2014 expanded eligibility for a medical card to encompass any condition that a physician believes could be alleviated by medical marijuana. 

In 2015, Initiative 71—the recreational marijuana ballot measure—was enacted. It permits patients to cultivate up to six plants, three of which may be mature.

The Medical Marijuana Reciprocity Amendment Act of 2015, which took effect in 2017, allowed patients from other jurisdictions with equivalent medical marijuana programs to use their cards at DC dispensaries. 

In 2019, DC began accepting medical marijuana cards from any other state.

Washington, DC qualifying conditions for medical marijuana

The Medical Marijuana Expansion Emergency Amendment Act of 2014 stipulates that any condition a physician feels may benefit from medical marijuana is eligible.

How to get a medical marijuana card in Washington, DC

The first step in getting a card in Washington, DC is to consult with a physician, physician’s assistant, nurse practitioner, or dentist. These health professionals can issue recommendations to DC residents that will allow them to legally purchase medical marijuana from dispensaries in the District. Patients may apply online here, via DC Health.

As part of the application process, you’ll be given a recommendation number. With that in hand, Next, submit a patient application to the Department of Health. You’ll need a recommendation number from the medical professional that you consulted. The application additionally consists of a headshot, photo ID, and two forms of proof of residency There’s also a $100 application fee, though low-income patients may qualify for a reduced fee of $25. 

For more information, see the Health Department’s patient checklist.

Does Washington, DC accept out-of-state medical cards? 

As of August 2019, patients from any state with a medical marijuana program may use their cards at a DC dispensary.

When does my Washington, DC medical card expire?

Medical marijuana registrations must be renewed annually, a communications official at the DC Department of Health told Leafly by email.

Washington, DC marijuana growing laws

Per the Legalization of Possession of Minimal Amounts of Marijuana for Personal Use Initiative of 2014, anyone over the age of 21 may cultivate up to six plants total at home, with only three in a mature stage at any one time. Individuals that share a residence may cultivate up to 12 plants, six of which may be mature, for the entire household.

Washington, DC public consumption laws

Public consumption remains illegal in Washington, DC. The Metropolitan Police Department makes clear on its website that consuming marijuana in any form–or even holding or carrying a lighted roll of paper or other lighted smoking equipment filled with marijuana – in any public space is illegal.

District code dictates that public consumption remains a crime, punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a fine of up to $500.

Technically, because some portions of Washington, DC are federal land, penalties may vary. 

In practice, public consumption will result in a $25 fine. Alternatively, offenders may choose to go to court per 2018 policy recommendations issued by the mayor’s office.

Washington, DC cannabis DUI laws

Anyone driving in DC gives implicit consent to a chemical test. If a driver refuses to submit to a test, they shall be informed that their license will be revoked for 12 months. Evidence of a refusal to submit to a test shall be admissible as evidence of guilt in a court of law.

Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs) that may be administered by a trained Drug Recognition Experts (DREs) include breath test instrument, urine test, and blood test (must be administered by a medical professional at the request of law enforcement).


  • First offense: Incarceration for no more than 90 days, $3,000 fine, or both, six-month suspended driver’s license
  • Second offense: 5-day minimum incarceration up to one year, $1,000 to $5,000 fine, or both, and one-year suspended driver’s license
  • Third and subsequent offenses: 10-day minimum incarceration up to one year, $2,000 to $10,000 fine, or both, and two-year suspended driver’s license

Washington, DC cannabis testing regulations

DC law dictates that all medical marijuana be subject to a series of tests:moisture content, water activity, terpene and cannabinoid levels (THC, THCA, CBD, CBDA, CBN), foreign matter contamination, microbial and/or mycotoxin contamination, heavy metals (arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury), pesticide and/or fertilizer residue, residual solvents, and homogeneity (for edibles). Law does not require gray area “gifting shops” to test their products.

Common questions about marijuana legalization in Washington, DC

Can you buy marijuana in Washington, DC without a medical card?

You can buy weed in Washington, DC without a medical card from a “gifting” dispensary, although the sale of recreational marijuana technically remains illegal. Patients can, however, legally purchase medical cannabis with their card from a licensed medical dispensary

When did Washington, DC legalize marijuana possession?

Residents voted for medical marijuana in 1998, but cannabis dispensaries did not become operational until 2013. Residents voted for recreational marijuana in 2014. 

Are dabs legal in Washington, DC?

Concentrates are legally sold by dispensaries in Washington, DC. Recreational legislation does not explicitly mention dabs so caution is advised.

How many recreational dispensaries are open in Washington, DC?

Zero. Although recreational marijuana is legal in DC, it is illegal to sellHowever, there are seven medical dispensaries in Washington, DC, and several dozen gray area “gifting shops.”

Are other drugs legal in Washington, DC?

Aside from marijuana, no.

Keep up with the latest news about legalization in Washington, DC

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Post last updated Sept. 7, 2020

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