Marijuana Legalization

Washington, D.C.

Last updated: March 1, 2020

Marijuana is legal in Washington, D.C., but it cannot be sold or purchased. Congress has blocked D.C. from instituting its own regulatory system for recreational marijuana.

Marijuana is legal in Washington, D.C. as of February 26, 2015. That was the day that Initiative 71 became law, establishing that anyone 21 years of age or older can: possess (up to 2 oz.), grow (up to 6 plants, no more than 3 mature), transfer to another person (up to 1 oz.), and consume on private property.

It is considered a “home grow, home use” legalization, meaning nothing can be done in public.


Selling marijuana, using it in any form in public, and driving while intoxicated are all strictly illegal in Washington, D.C. It remains illegal for anyone 20 years of age or younger. Marijuana is illegal to consume on a restaurant patio, a rooftop or outdoor bar, a cigar or hookah lounge, outdoors, or even private clubs. It can be used in private residences, however at no time should there be more than 2 oz. of marijuana per person.

Why can’t I buy marijuana in DC?

DC is not its own state and is under the control of Congress. Therefore, it continues to be illegal to use marijuana in public anywhere in the District of Columbia. Under federal law, federal law enforcement officers may arrest anyone in the District for possession of any amount of marijuana. Residential use in federally-owned housing is at risk for breaking the law.

2015’s Initiative 71 allows for the legal possession of up to two ounces of marijuana, consumption in private homes, and the cultivation of up to six plants at a time. It also permits adults over the age of 21 to give each other up to one ounce of marijuana at a time, though it does not allow for sales of the drug.

Just after Initiative 71 was passed and in the few months before it was to go into effect, Maryland Republican Congressman Andrew Harris inserted an amendment to the budget that denied D.C. the funding it needed to reform the law and set up a regulatory system. Such an amendment has been added by Republicans each year since 2015, and despite efforts by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and Democratic supporters, that prohibition is in place through September 2020.

Because of Congressional interference, D.C. has not been able to establish a regulatory system, so marijuana cannot be sold or taxed by the city. To stay in compliance, marijuana enthusiasts began to give marijuana products as “free gifts” with the purchase of some other item that can be legally sold. Since they cannot run shops, marijuana enthusiasts began holding events at bars and other venues to trade marijuana products.

Technically, overspending on a minor item (like a sticker) shows that the intention was to buy marijuana, and so these services are under pressure from police. Last year, police raided a number of these marijuana trading events and arrested participants for intent to sell marijuana.

Next Steps:

Advocates are focused on decriminalizing psychedelic mushrooms. If enough signatures are gathered, a ballot initiative could appear in November 2020.