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How to Open a Marijuana Dispensary in DC

You can legally smoke marijuana in the District of Columbia, but you cannot purchase it. Well, you can purchase medical marijuana, but you cannot purchase recreational marijuana. This strange situation results from the unique legal position of D.C. as a creation of the U.S. Constitution.

Congress Controls the Laws of the District of Columbia

The District of Columbia occupies an unusual position in our country. It is the seat of our nation's capital. It was created by Article I Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution to be separate from any state and to be governed by Congress. Originally, it could not govern itself, had no voting rights, and was not represented in Congress.

Since its creation, it has been a difficult struggle for the citizens of D.C. to obtain those rights. It was not until 1973 and the passage of the Home Rule Act that the District, for the first time, was able to elect its own mayor and governing council. Still, Congress continues to exercise oversight of the District's laws and can block laws from taking effect. And they did so when the District passed laws legalizing both medical and recreational marijuana.

Legal Use of Marijuana in the District of Columbia

It took a long time, but eventually, Congress stopped blocking the District's marijuana laws. It is now legal to obtain marijuana through the medical marijuana process, and a citizen of the District can grow their own for recreational use.

Retail sales of recreational cannabis are still prohibited. However, you can gift or donate marijuana to someone as long as you do not receive money, goods, or services in exchange for it. Enterprising citizens of the District have taken to selling T-shirts, mugs, and other items and then providing a "gift" of marijuana along with the sale.

There are no storefronts. Sales are arranged at designated places. While it is legal to give marijuana to someone, the sale of other items to make that gift can run afoul of the law quickly. There have been arrests made for these kinds of activities.

Marijuana Dispensary Laws and Information

While you cannot open a retail establishment, you can open a medical marijuana dispensary. Below is a summary of the laws and regulations for opening a medical marijuana dispensary in the District of Columbia.


District of Columbia Laws

Federal Law

Controlled Substance Act: Marijuana is still illegal under federal law, as is the use of marijuana on federal lands. This becomes important when you consider that 29% of D.C. is under federal control.

Preliminary Information
  1. Medical marijuana dispensaries are required to be registered with the mayor.
  2. The DC Health agency administers the registration and licensing of medical marijuana
  3. No more five dispensaries within the District are permitted
  4. An owner can only register for one medical marijuana dispensary

Application Process

  • You must meet general qualification requirements (good character; over 21; no felony convictions; and not a physician (22 DCMR C section 5400.1))
  • Applications accepted only during open application periods
  • Letter of intent required (22 DCMR C section 5401.4)
Registration Fees

Fees are required for the application and permit, but also there are fees for employees, managers, and business partners. (22 DCMR C sections 5103 and 5104)

  • Annual fee for medical marijuana dispensary: $10,000
  • Initial application fee: $5,000
  • Annual fee for each corporate partner: $200
  • Annual fee for each employee: $75
  • Annual fee for each Manager's license: $150
Transportation Fees

You need to pay a $25 fee to transport medical marijuana from the manufacturing location to the distributing facilities.

Hours of Operation

A medical marijuana dispensary can be open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Application Selection Process

The District uses a point process to make its selection for awarding a license. Applicants are required to address specified criteria in their application and points are given for each area addressed. (22 DCMR C section 5404) These areas include:

  • Location
  • Staffing
  • Security
  • Inventory
  • Business and marketing plan
  • Neighborhood impact
  • Educational materials

Location Requirements

Medical marijuana dispensaries:

  • Cannot be within 300 ft. of a school or recreational center
  • Cannot be at any location that also sells alcohol
  • Cannot have any other type of business at the location
  • Cannot be in a residential district

Marijuana Training and Education Certificates

Training and educations certificates are required for:

  • Directors, officers, members, incorporators, and agents
  • Employees
  • Managers

Criminal Background Checks

Criminal background checks are required for:

  • Directors, officers, members, incorporators, and agents
  • Employees
  • Managers

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

Related Resources

Need Help Understanding All the Requirements? Find a Local Attorney Today.

Are you undaunted by all the District of Colombia's requirements to start a medical marijuana dispensary? But you still want to make sure you do everything right? Contact a local cannabis business attorney experienced in marijuana laws who can explain the process and help you prepare the necessary documents.

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