No cannabis sales, but here’s a free gift with your $82 cookies
The grey-bearded man arrives at the car park in Washington carrying a small white box. After checking some ID, he hands over the package: a stack of six chocolate chip biscuits that costs US$60 (NZ$82) plus tax and delivery.
Then, leaning in as if to share a confidence, he says: ‘‘We are giving free gifts today with our deliveries. Would you be interested in a completely free gift that comes with your order?’’ An affirmative nod produces a gift bag – and, within it, the real point of the deal.
Increasingly, such surreptitious exchanges are the way by which marijuana smokers are getting their fix in America’s capital, where ‘‘pot-preneurs’’ are exploiting, legally, the city’s byzantine drug laws.
Washington and eight US states have legalised recreational marijuana for residents above a certain age. However, thanks to a quirk of the law, getting hold of it requires an elaborate ritual. Adults over 21 are allowed to possess up to two ounces (56 grams) of cannabis, but it is illegal to buy or sell it as a casual user. It can only be disbursed as a gift.
For years, city officials have advocated legalising sales, which they estimate could generate US$100 million in taxes by 2020. However, much of the city’s budget is controlled by the US Congress, and tax policy must be approved on Capitol Hill – and Republicans are refusing to allow Washington to promote legal marijuana sale policies.
A grey market has sprung up to circumvent the no-selling rule. From expensive cookies to paintings of politician Bernie Sanders, vendors can plausibly plead that they are following the law and providing something extra on top of the wares they sell.
Tickets to fitness classes, parties and craft fairs are another route. A ‘‘Morning Marijuasana’’ yoga class hosted by the Golden Pineapple studio, aimed at women, costs between US$20 and $200 (NZ$27 to $270).
‘‘This is the grand experiment,’’ says Joe Tierney, who runs a website that reviews local marijuana services. ‘‘No other place in America has done legalisation without commercial regulation, so what you see is what’s emerged when people are left to their own devices.’’
To Tierney, the elaborate business disguise for recreational marijuana sales is a benefit because it is ‘‘a way of using cannabis to promote other things’’.
One of the best-known delivery services in the city was founded by four deaf artists, who give cannabis to buyers of their artwork. A local rapper called ‘‘Pott’’ uses it to sell albums.
The practice has even squeezed medical marijuana providers, who must go through expensive licensing and procurement processes to set up shop but are only allowed to sell on the premises.
‘‘It’s hard for us to compete with home delivery,’’ says Virginia West, a manager at one five dispensaries.
Some of her colleagues are lobbying the city to change the rule, West says. ‘‘A lot of our patients would really benefit from that.’’
Licensing does come with protection. Not long after possession became legal, two sellers who worked for the delivery service Kush Gods, which exchanged marijuana for ‘‘donations’’, were arrested.
Arrests for selling the drug in Washington have climbed, from about 80 in 2015, when possession became legal, to more than 300 this year.
Because marijuana is still illegal under national law, offering such gifts on federal land is prohibited.
The long-term goal, activists say, is still to change the drug’s federal status. At least seven bills have been introduced in Congress to further liberalise marijuana policy.
Until then, it will be US$150 (NZ$205) for the strawberry lemonade with ‘‘lots of love’’, please. of Washington’s
Police arrest protesters smoking marijuana near the steps of the US Capitol in Washington, DC. Dealers in the city are giving the drug away as a gift with purchases of food, paintings and other goods, to get around a ban on recreational cannabis sales...