Marijuana in Washington, DC: Just How Legal Is “Legalized”?

Posted by Michael E. Lyons | Feb 12, 2019 | 0 Comments

In 2014, Washington DC's Initiative 71 legalized the recreational use of marijuana in the District of Columbia. But how legal is “legalized”? While possession-based arrests have decreased in the years since Initiative 71 passed, arrests are still made for public consumption and possession above the legal limit. Even now, almost five years later, recreational cannabis users in our nation's capital can face significant legal trouble for illegal use of “legal” marijuana.

Use of marijuana is still illegal under federal law, so if you are in the military or a federal government employee—then use of marijuana is always prohibited and illegal, regardless if you consume it in a state that has legalized it. Military members and federal employees are subject to random drug testing, so it's always advisable that you don't partake in illegal drug use, even if the local laws say differently.

When is recreational marijuana LEGAL in Washington, DC?

The rule of thumb to remember is, “Home grown; Home use.” Selling marijuana or using it in a public space is still illegal, and no one under the age of 21 can use or possess any amount. Officially titled the “Legalization of Possession of Minimal Amounts of Marijuana for Personal Use Act of 2014,” Initiative 71 lays out the following:

An individual 21 years of age or older will be able to lawfully:

  • Possess two ounces or less of marijuana;
  • Use marijuana on private property;
  • Transfer one ounce or less of marijuana to another person, as long as: (1) no money, goods or services are exchanged; and (2) the recipient is 21 years of age or older;
  • Cultivate within his or her primary residence up to six marijuana plants, no more than three of which are mature.

When is recreational marijuana ILLEGAL in Washington, DC?

The most important thing to note is that marijuana possession is still illegal for anyone under the age of 21, and as mentioned above it remains illegal if you are in the military or a federal employee.

It is illegal for ANY individual in Washington, DC to:

  • Possess more than two ounces of marijuana;
  • Smoke or otherwise consume marijuana on public space or anywhere to which the public is invited, including restaurants, bars, and coffee shops;
  • Sell any amount of marijuana to another person; or
  • Operate a vehicle or boat under the influence of marijuana.

What about medical marijuana?

Washington, DC allows medical marijuana prescriptions for any ailment, and patients can submit an application for a medical marijuana card as long as they have proof of residency in the District and official recommendation from a doctor. Doctors cannot prescribe specific doses, but they can offer advice and guidance through the application process.

So what does all of this mean?

As more and more states attempt to legalize marijuana it might start to sound that it is legal to use in all context, but each state will have different laws and different regulations, and until federal laws change it will remain illegal under federal law. In Washington DC, Initiative 71 made recreational marijuana legal in small quantities, but significant restrictions remain. It's best to protect yourself with knowledge of your rights under the law. If you are a resident of the District of Columbia, recreational marijuana is legal if and only if you are over the age of 21, possess no more than 2 ounces, and are using it in your own home.

Remember — these rules only apply to residents of the District of Columbia. The specific laws differ from state to state, including in Maryland and Virginia. The world of “legalized” marijuana can be complicated, and the laws will be different in each state that has legalized marijuana or is moving to do so. If you are charged with a drug offense, you should find an experienced attorney to represent you. For more information, check out the resources below.

Still have questions? Do you need legal counsel because of a recent marijuana law violation? Call us today to schedule a consultation to speak with one of our attorneys.

DISCLAIMER:  The information above is for general informational purposes only.  No attorney-client relationship is intended or created by this information.  Each individual situation is different and therefore a formal in-person consultation is necessary before any specific advice may be relied upon as appropriate and accurate for a given situation. Please call Patriots Law Group at 301-952-9000 to set up a consultation if you wish to obtain specific legal advice you may rely upon. We serve clients anywhere in the world, with in-person consultations available at our Suitland, MD office — right next to Andrews Air Force Base — for clients in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. 

About the Author

Michael E. Lyons

“As a veteran, I bring my core values of service, integrity, and excellence to every client, every case, every time.” Background: Michael E. Lyons (“Mike”) handles cases in Maryland and Washington D.C. fr...


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