In 2016, the D.C. council voted 7-6 to create a permanent, social-use ban on smoking cannabis anywhere except privately owned residences, leaving much of D.C. illegal to consume cannabis on. Basically, you can only legally smoke cannabis in private homes and backyards in the District (keep in mind, residences like subsidized housing or even a landlord who just doesn’t want people smoking cannabis on their property, can ban you from smoking). This leaves many tourists, and D.C. citizens alike, wondering where they can toke without the worry of law enforcement.
So, where do people smoke a joint in D.C.? Well, pretty much everywhere. Because of the social-use ban, private cannabis clubs have not been able to legally welcome smokers, so tokers have naturally turned to the streets. This is even true for individuals who own private property and are free to smoke cannabis within their spaces, as many people still prefer to hit the sidewalk with their cannabis than stay in the home (like parents who don’t want their children seeing them consume cannabis or people renting their property out to others). So, even individuals with private property tend to venture to the street at some point, giving the District a new Urban Aroma you might have smelled in other major cities around the western world.
You’re outside with your doobie and you’re wondering, what happens if I’m caught? Don’t worry too much; as long as you’re carrying less than two ounces, you’re more than likely going to get off with a small warning. The officer does have the right to issue you a civil fine of $25 and can confiscate your cannabis (womp womp) but in a truly unusual time for cannabis law, you can actually reclaim your confiscated cannabis at the police station it was taken to after you pay your civil fine.
Remember, these rules do not apply to federal property, which is still illegal to smoke on and makes up almost 30% of D.C.. This includes federal park land, such as Rock Creek Park, Malcolm X Park, and the National Mall but also other federal land, like Union Station and the West Lawn of the Capital. Before you spark, you may want to take a look at thismap to steer clear of federal enforcement agencies like US Park Police or US Capitol Police. If you do get caught in possession of cannabis on federal property, even first time offenders face serious misdemeanor charges (up to one year in jail and $1,000 fine).
A few things to keep in mind regarding police and consuming cannabis in the District: if you are stopped by police for enjoying cannabis, you are not required to provide a legal form of ID, but you do have to provide your legal name and address; police may not use the smell of cannabis as an excuse to search for it but keep in mind you can’t legally smoke in a vehicle, moving or parked, so if they see you there, they can issue a fine.
As for D.C. bars and clubs, many have relaxed attitudes about smoking cannabis in their backyard or rooftop areas. They are not legally allowed to condone it, but most will look the other way. Generally, the worst thing an owner or management will do is ask you to put your cannabis treat out. Occasionally in D.C., there will be one-time events that allow social-use cannabis consumption inside retail businesses or warehouses, but if authorities consider it a “pop-up” event for selling weed, they will attempt to find and shut down the venue. Right now, your best bet for smoking weed outside a privately owned property in D.C., is still a sidewalk or alley, just make sure you’re not on federal property.