The government took down the District’s self-described god of marijuana.
In D.C. Superior Court on Monday, Nicholas Cunningham, who dubbed himself one of the “Kush Gods,” pleaded guilty to two counts of selling the drug to an undercover police officer.
Cunningham operated a fleet of luxury vehicles — painted with marijuana leaves — that authorities said were used to sell pot in the District. But by Cunningham’s telling, he simply gave away marijuana, or pot-infused brownies or other treats, in return for financial donations.
During Monday’s court hearing, Cunningham, 30, showed little remorse for his entrepreneurial endeavors.
“I feel I have been a benefit and not a harm to this city,” he told the judge. “I did get ahead of myself in terms of the law.”
Judge Ronda Reid-Winston sentenced Cunningham to 180 days in jail but suspended the jail sentence and placed him on two years of probation.
It is legal in the District for those over age 21 to possess up to two ounces of marijuana and to give up to an ounce to another adult. But selling any amount is illegal.
Cunningham’s attorney, Matthew Von Fricken, told the judge his client “may have been a little ahead of his time” with his business venture.
The arrangement, Von Fricken argued in court, was not unlike calling National Public Radio, making a donation and “getting a gift” in return.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Barker was incredulous.
Cunningham “says he was accepting donations, which is an incredible assertion for anyone accepting $2,000 worth of donations,” Barker said. “These were more than donations when the brownies cost $10.”
Barker said Cunningham, who did not have a vendor’s license, sold pot indiscriminately to anyone who had the funds and did not have a system in place to ensure the drugs were not sold to children or individuals who might become seriously ill from the drug.
“This case is about a course of conduct over several months. His actions were brazen, reckless and irresponsible,” Barker said.
Cunningham appeared to bristle at the prosecutor’s suggestion that the pot went to anyone who might have been harmed by it.
Between October and December 2015, prosecutors said, Cunningham and his fleet drove around various parts of the District, including Chinatown and the U Street corridor. Cunningham, prosecutors said, would coordinate with buyers via an online app he created or text messages.
On two occasions prosecutors cited, on Dec. 10 and Dec. 22, Cunningham coordinated purchases via texts with an undercover narcotics officer. Each transaction involved a little less than an ounce of marijuana for $400. They said that in total, he made $2,000 in various transactions during the sting.
At a hearing last month, one of Cunningham’s associates, 18-year-old Evonne Lidoff, pleaded guilty to distributing marijuana and was placed on six months’ probation. Prosecutors say Lidoff dropped off the marijuana to the undercover officer after Cunningham arranged the deal.
Reid-Winston ordered Cunningham to shut down his company and his app and to no longer sell marijuana or any items containing marijuana in the District.
The judge also ordered Cunningham to paint over the marijuana decorations on three vehicles, including a Lexus and a Mercedes, which are currently being held by D.C. police. The judge gave Cunningham 30 days to have the vehicles painted. Otherwise, the vehicles must be moved out of the District and covered.