DC's Grey Market Cannabis Economy

Matthew Koehler

In 2014, DC legalized recreational cannabis but because the Congress controls the tiny federal district, DC could not regulate and tax the plant. Alternatives emerged...


A photo of H Street; Courtesy of Author

Somewhere along the H Street corridor in DC, a group that will remain nameless put on a good cannabis event. It was the first one I’d ever been too, and it was also the first of its kind in the District.

To a graduate of the 1990's D.A.R.E program, and being from the Midwest, this event marked how things have changed in the country. Even with my pro-legalization progressive attitude towards cannabis, the event highlighted a time and place I never expected to find myself. Of course, I’d gone to parties where cannabis was being consumed but those parties where different. They existed solely behind closed doors, hidden from the long arm of law.

The H Street event was also behind closed doors but it wasn’t necessarily illegal. As per the law, it took place in a private residence and IDs were checked at the door. No one under the age of 21 was allowed in. There were even police officers hanging out watching people go in but taking no further interest.

For those of you in the know, you’re aware of the cannabis rules in DC — whatever you do, money cannot change hands, which currently puts the distribution of cannabis in a legal gray area. No THC infused products were being bought and sold at the event, however, and there were tables full of edibles — free for the taking. I know because I scooped handfuls of them into my bag while the chefs smiled and nodded at me in encouragement.

And yes, large piles of flower was smoked — free of charge.

Well, the event wasn’t completely free. Everyone had to bring a minimum of three perishable items for a food drive. Given that it was the weekend before thanksgiving, most people brought far more than the required amount.

While queuing out on the street before the venue, I chatted with people from various parts of the District (where it’s legal to have and consume cannabis off Federally designated land), Maryland, and Virginia (both of the latter still criminalize recreational consumption).

Some had traveled several hours to attend and were more than willing to share stories. Two event goers — a couple — explained that they had come all the way from Morgantown, West Virginia. The traffic had sucked but there was no way they weren’t going to come. I lamented with them how bad Traffic was around the Beltway, but told them all I had to do was hop on a Capital Bikeshare bike and ride over.

Whatever my expectations, I was not mentally prepared for the separate world I entered when I left the sidewalk outside and stumbled into an alternate reality inside.

Walking in, I was handed several edibles, which I immediately ate. There was a familiar smell wafting through the room but with the mass of humanity crammed inside, it was impossible to tell from where it was coming. Since curiosity was the case, I made like water and slipped through partygoers to the backroom of the building. The smell was definitely emanating from there.

I stood there dumbfounded, unsure of what to do at first. Was I supposed to ask someone about sampling some of the herb? Was there a secret code? Perhaps they all knew a foreign language I was unaware of…

My thoughts, it seemed, were being broadcasted from my mind because the man next to me produced a joint, as if out of thin air, and handed it to me. More joints, bongs, and pipes seemed to magically appear shortly thereafter.

Slipping further through the crowd, I reached a table in the back where one of the organizers was dumping piles of flower out on a table and handing it out.

A shorter gentleman to my right, sporting a slick suit, turned to me and asked what was going on when it dawned on me, “They’re doling pot to anyone who has a pipe or can roll a joint,” I said to him.

“Holy shit,” he breathed, shaking his head in disbelief, “I can roll a joint!” He pushed his way through the crowd, announcing his skill to all who’d listen.

Holy shit, indeed.

That’s right about when my personal reality slipped from one place and transitioned to another. Here, in the tiny back room of this building, American society was shifting. People from various socio-economic stratums had come together, despite their differences, to share in a mutual love: pot. Regardless of how our disparate philosophies, politics, or life experiences separated and divided us, no one cared at that moment. None of that was on the discussion table as all available space was taken up by newly legalized cannabis (and all its tasty derivatives).

Standing in that packed back room it was impossible not to politely bump into someone who was either passing the cipher to you or accepting it from you. It was probably the euphoric effects of the THC, but still, I knew what this place was — a real melting pot (pun intended). Something important was going on, man.

All around me, there was nothing but excited conversation and smiling faces. Forty-five minutes in and everyone was enveloped in dense, vast cloud that had, by the very magic that people claim it has, transformed all of us strangers into one cohesive and connected thought — this event was fucking crazy.

No, that’s not it. Maybe it was something more profound? Whatever that cohesive thought was, we were all enjoying the legal grey area in which we were standing, without fear of legal repercussions. There was a palpable relief in the air — a collective sigh of ah.

The gathering went off without a hitch and without any arrests. Everyone that I ran into left the event euphoric and slightly more slap happy than when they went in. After an hour inside, though, I had to make an exit. Other people were waiting to get in and I didn’t want to be selfish. Besides, I needed to clear my head.

Walking back the way I’d come, I contemplated the event and what it meant. No doubt the thoughts I had walking down the street seemed more profound than they actually were but there they were.

I headed over to the National Mall where they were having a protest against the war on drugs, Catharsis on the Mall. In my heightened state of consciousness, I figured it would be a fitting way to close out the night and reflect on the injustices that prohibition still causes throughout the world.

Or, whatever man.

https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=0U4vwn_0YRs3nkz00Catharsis on The Mall; Courtesy of Author

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Essays and reporting. Most of this is true. Bylines around the Web. Editor of a local newspaper in the District. Got a tip? Contact me here: https://twitter.com/MattJKoe.

Washington, DC

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