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DC Cannabis Law: What You Need to Know

In the United States, cannabis-related rules are a bit confusing. Rather than one single law, a patchwork of different laws exists across the country. Some of these laws seem to conflict with one another. At the federal level, cannabis is considered a controlled substance, and possession of it is considered a federal offense that can result in prison time. Individual jurisdictions within the U.S. have the right to decriminalize or legalize cannabis within their borders, however. Despite their cannabis laws, the federal government does not prosecute people for cannabis possession or use in the places where it has been legalized. A primary example of this legal irony is DC cannabis law.

Is Cannabis Legal in Washington DC?

Although Washington DC is a city, it doesn’t fall within any state borders. Instead, DC operates as an independent jurisdiction similar to a state. So far, cannabis is legal for medical use in 33 states and legal for medical or recreational use in 11 states. Like these states, Washington DC has legalized cannabis for both medical and recreational use.

The Washington DC cannabis law is called Initiative 71. Initiative 71 puts limits on cannabis use in DC. As a result, cannabis is legal in DC only under these circumstances:

  • Person purchasing/possessing cannabis is over 21 years old
  • Cannabis is possessed in amounts of 2 ounces or less
  • It can only be used on private property

People who do not own an official cannabis dispensary cannot sell cannabis to others in Washington DC. They may give some to another person in quantities of 1 ounce or less, as long as no money or goods are exchanged and both people involved are at least 21 years old.

Initiative 71 also gives people in Washington DC the legal ability to grow cannabis plants privately in their homes. People can grow cannabis as long as:

  • They have no more than 6 total plants
  • No more than 3 of the plants are mature
  • All plants are at their primary residence


What Are DC Cannabis Limitations?

Although Washington DC legalized cannabis, it does not have the ability to legalize it on federal land. In DC, a total of 18 square miles or 29% of the city is considered federal land. For this reason, cannabis customers should be aware of where they are located before partaking in cannabis use. Federal law enforcement officers may arrest people for cannabis use or possession occurring on federal land within Washington DC.

Even off of federal land, there are some limitations on cannabis in DC. Cannabis becomes illegal when:

  • The person possessing it is under 21 years old
  • More than 2 ounces is possessed
  • It’s consumed on public property, such as streets, sidewalks, or in parks
  • It’s consumed on property open to the public, such as restaurants, bars, and movie theaters
  • It is sold to another person for any amount of money or in exchange for goods
  • The person consuming it operates a vehicle or boat while under the influence


Cannabis is legal for people over 21 years old to consume in Washington DC for both recreational and medical use. There are some restrictions, however. Cannabis customers should take extra care to avoid using or possessing cannabis on federal land, which makes up nearly 30% of Washington DC.

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