MARIJUANA RAIDS IN DC? FACT OR FICTION.

Was Bar/Restaurant Marakech at 2131 P Street, N.W. raided by the police on Saturday, March 10, 2018? Police say no; Neighbors say, yes.


Nearby Store Manager “S*” asserts that he saw a large police presence including eight or more police cars, ambulance and fire truck storm into and around Marakech around 2:30PM on March 10.


Fireplace Bar near Marakesh Customer “L” claims that over 150 were not allowed to leave Marakech until 5PM when they were released. He reports seeing police carrying out trays of what appeared to be food edibles.


The marijuana club that usually operates out of Marakech on Saturday and Sunday afternoons did not operate on Sunday, March 11th.


BUT, the police claim that this was not a raid but instead they were responding to a call that two people were fighting. When they arrived, they discovered that the club was “gifting” small amounts of marijuana while selling for large amounts of money items such as T-Shirts, brownies, etc. Nearby neighbors and business folks doubt the fighting reason or excuse. Business Manager “P” notes that the usual weekend police surveillance from the parking lot, 22nd and P, ceased when the Marakech club marijuana distribution ceased. Most likely not coincidental.


This Marakech Bar/Club were sponsoring the process of marijuana “gifting.” DC voters overwhelming (65%) approved the marijuana initiative #71 in 2014 but the law left it illegal to buy or sell marijuana. People can have up to two ounces of marijuana, can cultivate up to six plants, can consume privately and if 21 years of age can give others of the same up to one ounce at a time. Some say this set the stage for a free for all. This law vagueness begat the process of “gifting” so one buys a TShirt worth several dollars for $45 and then they get a gift of marijuana.


Former Bar Owner “T” says this “gifting” is reminiscent of the 1980’s when bars tried to get around the regulations against serving alcohol on Sunday mornings or after hours. Bars would then sell hot dogs for $5 and give a gift of a beer.


Keith Stroup, Legal Counsel for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) asserts, “The City Council appears ready to fully legalize and regulate marijuana sales in the District, but Congress has blocked that for now. So the only legal source of marijuana within the District is to cultivate your own marijuana, and most smokers do not want to spend the time or effort to do that. So obviously there is a thriving "gray market" that provides marijuana to those who smoke, including the ruse of ‘gifting."


From DC Attorney General’s Office Robert Marcus: “We advised MPD early on in implementation of Initiative 71 that the practice of “gifting” less than two ounces of marijuana in connection with any sort of commercial exchange or “donation” is illegal. Of course, we have advised MPD, other District leaders and agencies, and the public on other aspects of Initiative 71 implementation. We published this FAQs document for the public in 2015 as the law went into effect:https://oag.dc.gov/about-oag/laws-legal-opinions/information-districts-marijuana-laws


And here’s the press release announcing that advice: 

https://oag.dc.gov/release/office-attorney-general-releases-frequently-asked

Following this legal advice, Andrew Struhar, Lieutenant - Narcotics and Special Investigations Division, Metropolitan Police Department asserts:

“An individual may not receive compensation for providing marijuana or marijuana products.  However they want to word it if they are receiving something of value for marijuana it is illegal.

If conducting in operation a subject is served with an illegal amount of marijuana or illegal products we can seize those items. Typically customers are allowed to leave. (sic)”

Partially, this odd situation can be attributed to the fear that the federal government will interfere with the DC marijuana process. Each DC law goes through a review by US Congress. In the marijuana case, a rider was attached prohibiting DC government from spending any monies on the implementation of this bill as well as prohibiting any taxing scheme.


Change in pot laws is challenging everywhere not just in DC. Wall St Journal in their 3/24/18 editorial describe how California pot growers are deploring the heavy hand of state regulators. “Less than 1% of the state’s 68,150 marijuana cultivators have obtained licenses.” New York Times 3/26/18 reports on pot problems in the Netherlands where pot is legal but one can only grow 5 plants at a time so a real issue with supply.


DC citizens report hundreds of these “gifting events” involving approximately 25 vendors selling items such as coffee cups, baseballs with “a gift” plus marijuana paraphernalia. These events are often advertised online or through social media. Sometimes they charge a cover. Sometimes, one must RSVP to get the addresses.


Joe Tierney, GentlemanToker blogs that these police raids began 12/23/17. http://www.gentlemantoker.com/how-do-i-get-weed-in-dc/


City officials seek to clarify the legalities and illegalities. Dated July 21, 2016, the DC Department of Health (DOH) sent a letter to all Business Owners which said the following: DC amended its marijuana laws to permit a person who is 21 years of age or older to possess two ounces or less of marijuana. Although the law allows home usage, it prohibits the smoking or consumption of marijuana on public space or anywhere to which the public is invited. It is illegal to permit usage of marijuana in any form in clubs, restaurants, bars, patios, cafes, rooftops or any other type of food establishment in DC. The letter ends by listing the penalties that DOH can effectuate ranging from a $1,000 notice of infraction to referral to the Attorney General. The letter signed by DOH Director LaQuandra S. Nesbitt, MD, also describes penalties that can be effectuated by ABRA, MPD and DCRA. These penalties are attached to “use” of marijuana.


This letter may be instructive as to the approach of DC government to this issue. The letter is not about helping businesses but instead devoted to enforceability with fines by ABRA, DOH, DCRA and MPD.


Tom Lalley, Director of the Office of Communications for DOH responded that they have not been involved in any of the “raids” described above. ‘Our role on marijuana is mostly limited to the medical marijuana program which we regulate.”


ABRA via their Public Affairs Specialist Max Bluestein replied vaguely to their involvement with these marijuana police interventions. “ABRA investigators have assisted MPD on several of MPD’s investigations.” He then referenced their search website: https://abra.dc.gov/service/search-abra-records.


Whether Marakech was a raid or not, DC Police did raid the XO Lounge on the 1400 block of L Street NW. In this case, the police assert that there were neighborhood complaints. They seized 17 pounds of marijuana, 10 pounds of marijuana edibles and two quarts of THC-infused oils.


Also, this year the police raided a Southeast DC residence after 10 vendors had set up their booths. In this case, police confiscated approximately $22,000 in cash, 34 pounds of edibles as well as 8 pounds of marijuana and 43 plants. Eight people were charged with possession and distribution charges.


In February, police raided Mason Inn, a sports bar on Wisconsin in Glover Park resulting in 9 arrested for possession or intent to distribute.


Vita Restaurant and Lounge/Penthouse Nine 1318 Ninth Street, N.W., was also raided. ABRA has reported that at the request of the owner, their liquor license was surrendered. ABRA Order 2018-057.


DC Police are working with DC agencies ABRA and DCRA to get a handle on this “gifting” situation that has come out of the shadows. According to the U.S. Attorney, marijuana arrests have jumped from 276 in 2015 to 587 in 2017.


 MPS Lieutenant Struhar, further added this statement:

“There a couple of things to point out regarding the statistics provided by the US Attorney’s Office.  In 2015 MPD revamped how we address narcotics and created a new street level narcotics unit.  This unit conducts daily street level narcotic operations focused on street level traffickers.   Following the legalization of marijuana I think we have seen an increase in the amount of marijuana in the District and therefore more subjects selling marijuana illegally.   The Narcotics units most often respond to citizen complaints regarding illegal activity.  This includes complaints from businesses and form the city regulatory agencies.  When we receive these complaints we investigate and address appropriately.  The number of citizen and business complaints regarding marijuana have also increased following legalization.”


DC Resident and a proponent of recreational marijuana “L” responded to Struhar: “DC Police seem to obsess about marijuana despite the evolving laws and public support. If one wants immediate assistance on a 911 call, mention marijuana and one will get a quick response. 30% of DC homicides are unsolved. Should DC police not prioritize?”

According to the Uniform Crime Reporting developed by the FBI in the 1930’s the national homicide closure rate is 64%. Closure or clearance means that a suspect has been arrested or suspect has died.


https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2013/crime-in-the-u.s.-2013/offenses-known-to-law-enforcement/clearances/clearancetopic_final


Conclusion: It is clear that marijuana evokes great emotions. These must be tempered by logic. It is important to note that marijuana has not always been regulated or criminalized. It was not until the mid-1930’s that most states enacted such laws. The first national marijuana law was passed in 1937. There is much speculation as to why and what group may have been targeted by classifying marijuana as “a poison.”


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legal_history_of_cannabis_in_the_United_States


DC Residents are also locating online delivery services or growing their own. One resource is

http://www.gentlemantoker.com/how-do-i-get-weed-in-dc/.

DC Attorney General Karl Racine: “Congress should get out of the way and allow DC to regulate marijuana as Colorado does. We could use the taxes. We should move into the world of the 21st Century.”

https://www.c-span.org/video/?c4548728/washington-dc-attorney-general-karl-racine-marijuana-i-legal&start=10


Congress via their rider has forbidden DC government from spending any money on marijuana regulations but city agencies such as MPD, DOH and ABRA seem to be spending monies on enforcement. Does this not contravene Congress?


Robert Marcus of the Office of Attorney General offered this: “As we have advised District officials from the beginning, our view is that the enforcement of Initiative 71 itself does not violate the congressional rider, which Congress passed after Initiative 71 was certified. What the rider does prohibit the District from doing is expending any funds to take further actions to legalize marijuana (such as creating a regulatory regime to effectuate commercial sales of marijuana). The rider prohibits the District from using those funds “to enact or carry out any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties” associated with marijuana. District employees and agencies enforcing current laws does not violate the plain terms of the rider, because such efforts do not “legalize or otherwise reduce the penalties” associated with marijuana.” http://oag.dc.gov/sites/default/files/2018-02/Initiative-71-FAQs-Document-FINAL-REVISED3.pdf


MPD in DC are generally respected. Maybe it is the glow of the popular former Chief of Police Cathy Lanier but do DC residents want the limited police resources expended on marijuana possession arrests rather than other issues such as the unsolved murders.

*Witnesses to police actions prefer to remain anonymous.

Note: A number of folks did not respond to this newspaper’s request for comments: Attorney Andrew Kline (who represents ABRA establishments such as Mason Inn): Council Members Cheh, Evans, Nadeau, Mendelson, TWhite, Todd.

Chief of Staff Mtokufa Ngwenya spoke for CM Robert White:

“Councilmember White is not the correct person for these questions.”


Congress Member Andy Harris of Eastern Maryland who is the author of the Initiative 71 Rider was contacted. We received a general response, not specific.

Larry Ray is former ANC Commissioner (Dupont Circle and Columbia Heights), Police Commissioner and Columbus, Ohio, prosecutor. He is a Senior Adjunct Professor at GWU School of Law.


Pictures

  1. Screen shot of National

  2. Typical “gifting” bag

Larry Ray created Graph detailing increase in marijuana possession arrests. The Metropolitan Police Department provided the statistics to U.S. News in response to a Freedom of Information Act request and was unable to provide additional comment. Data via the Drug Policy Alliance.

https://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2017-06-22/pot-dealing-arrests-back-to-pre-legalization-levels-in-dc


  1. Screen shot from website of NORML

  2. Front of Marakech


NOTE: Adam Eidinger who spearheaded Initiative 71 and Keith Stroup, Legal Counsel of NORML reviewed this article for accuracy.