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Even though it’s illegal to sell cannabis in Washington D.C., canna-businesses have been taking advantage of a legal loophole in order to sell some of their popular product for years now. The Metropolitan Police Department initially allowed the grey market to operate with little interference, but has recently been ramping up efforts to crack down on the city’s cannabis “gifting economy. “

The district’s voters approved Initiative 71 back in 2014, which legalized adult use, possession, and home cultivation of cannabis, but still doesn’t allow retail sales. Several new companies quickly sprang up to meet the demand for legal weed, offering “free gifts” of cannabis to anyone who made a donation to their business. Vendors at these events hawk a variety of items, including baseball cards, t-shirts, comic books, or stickers – but every item is accompanied by a side of cannabis. These events were initially held in secret, but promoters gradually grew more bold, and today you can find a publicly-advertised marijuana gifting event almost any day of the week.

“In the beginning, we were very discreet,” a D.C. cannabis entrepreneur known only as Mangani told WAMU. You had to be in the cannabis community to even know that an event was going on. Several of these events even offer public consumption options, like free dab bars, which is unquestionably illegal under the city’s current framework for marijuana.

In the first few years of legalization, both black and grey market sales of cannabis continued without too much interference from local police. As the popularity and public visibility of these gifting businesses and events has spread, street dealers also began to attract more attention from law enforcement.

More recently, the city’s law enforcement and regulatory agencies have been turning their attention toward gifting events. So far this year, at least 30 people have been arrested and charged with selling cannabis through these social functions. Last week, the city Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs revoked the business licenses of two venues that had been hosting cannabis events. “It’s the venue owners at a lot of these events that are taking most of the risk, because most of the vendors don’t have a business license, so they’re not going to get their business license revoked,” D.C. cannabis attorney John McGowan said to WAMU.

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