The District as the new Amsterdam?
Sure, we’ve got cherry blossoms, museums and monuments. But our nation’s capital is also a cannabis-friendly island surrounded by pot prudes, and it may be on its way to becoming as hot as Amsterdam, Jamaica, Colorado and California for folks who want the thrill and freedom of a legal high.
Meet the D.C. Bud and Breakfast.
Most of the folks who check into Ayana Everett’s place aren’t from too far away.
“Maryland, mostly. They just want a getaway where they can relax and partake without being worried about breaking the law,” said Everett, 42, a Washington native who decided she was done with corporate and government work a year ago to take advantage of D.C. marijuana laws.
She used to organize tours to Jamaica. No need to go so far now.
It’s striking when you look at a map of marijuana laws across the United States. Until you get to Massachusetts, Maine and Vermont, the District is the only place on the Eastern Seaboard where recreational use is legal. The city is an open and advertised part of that tourism market that used to stick to places out west.
Even in some of the states out here that allow medical marijuana, restrictions are still tight. Virginia law, which is complex, but basically allows cannabis oil to be prescribed for some patients, is years away from a space cake bakery. Maryland allows medical marijuana use, but not recreational.
Just across the border, though, there was a huge 420 Festival at RFK Stadium on Saturday. The cloud of haze over that place lingered for hours.
The weekend was especially busy for Everett, she had back-to-back bookings, a full house.
It was 4/20, after all.
(I had to point out to at least one history nerd that April 20 is the national light up day because 420 is the nationwide code word for weed, a long story that goes back to 1971 and California teens. People are not celebrating on April 20 because it happens to be Adolf Hitler’s birthday.)
Everett’s cute Brookland home rents for $95 a night. She apologizes for the next-door remodel that’s making the days loud, so she’s throwing in two joints as a gift to anyone who checks in during construction. For an upgraded package starting at $60, more gifts will await guests. Bath towel, soap, a joint, a pot brownie.
She lives in the home and keeps within the narrow law that allows for personal use inside a private home.
The pot culture in the District is a little Wild West, thanks to Congress.
D.C. law allows people to possess up to two ounces of marijuana for personal use, allows consumption in a private place and allows residents to grow up to six plants. But Initiative 71 — passed overwhelmingly in 2015 — doesn’t allow for selling or buying.
A dilemma, right?
Congress passed a budget rider in 2015 that stops the District from using any money to regulate or enact any new laws on the marijuana market — leaving the nation’s capital in weird legal limbo, and potentially leaving at least $20 million in tax revenue behind.
That’s making some D.C. leaders furious.
“If not for congressional meddling in local D.C. affairs, we could join the many other states, from Alaska to Maine, in implementing marijuana reform,” wrote D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine and D.C. Council member David Grosso (I-At Large) in a fiery op-ed in The Washington Post earlier this month.
Entrepreneurs who grew tired of waiting for that logjam to break began holding pop-up events around the city, letting dealers and consumers meet, no gardening required. But those have been raided by police lately.
Without the ability to create further regulation, the legal gray area on the marijuana market is gifting. Everything from original art to cookies to stickers sell for extreme prices and include a “gift” — the pot.
That can get ridiculous, said Joshua Sanderlin, a D.C. attorney who specializes in cannabis law.
“No sticker’s worth $60,” Sanderlin said. “It’s pretty evident what they’re doing.”
He hasn’t yet dealt with legal issues on the Airbnb front but said it will be similar to the product market.
“I always ask people, ‘What are you actually selling?’ ” he said. “If you’re doubling the rate [because you include pot] that could be a problem.”
Still, those places exist in that legal gray area and have been largely ignored by police.
But that doesn’t help tourists looking for an Amsterdam-like experience. You can’t smoke in public, hotels will kick you out, and there’s still no place for pot on federal land — which makes up 30 percent of the District and crushes the dream of lighting up with Lincoln.
Enter the 420-friendly Airbnb.
Some are coy about it and simply say they are “Initiative 71 compliant” or “420 friendly” deep down in the details.
Others make it their primary selling point.
There is the totally unremarkable, one-bedroom brick box of beige carpet and air mattresses for additional guests in Southeast Washington that rents for three times what the club suite room at the Ritz-Carlton costs — $1,500 a night. And it has nothing but rave, five-star reviews.
The Cannabis Friendly DC Hideaway Suite includes toiletries, towels, “samples of cannabis strains for personal use” and “infused edibles.”
That one might be a little fishy, Sanderlin said, because it’s so far from a normal market rate for a room that it’s obvious the selling point is the pot.
Also in the same part of D.C. is the Cozy Canna-Inn, which promises a spalike experience including meditation sessions, massages with cannabis-infused oil, breakfast, mimosas and extra charges for a boat cruise. Cleverly priced, natch, at $420 a night.
Or there’s a basic, $41-a-night room in a Columbia Heights apartment that is “420-friendly” and “Initiative 71 compliant.” She basically lets you have a room in her apartment and lets you do what you want. This one isn’t a problem at all, Sanderlin said, as long as she doesn’t have a landlord that forbids pot.
Everett said she researched the law thoroughly and knew she didn’t want to be like the folks who offered a shady bed-and-a-joint for $60.
She’s also a substitute teacher and professional tour guide on the side, so Everett likes the style of a friendly, old-fashioned bed-and-breakfast experience, where you hang out with guests and tell them about the cool places to go.
All that bonding, however, isn’t happening over blueberry muffins in the new District.
Read more Petula Dvorak: