Mar 26, 2024 - News

Backlash to D.C. marijuana shops moves into the Palisades

The storefront (with sign "Green Theory") sandwiched between a carryout, barber and other businesses.

The proposed medical marijuana shop Green Theory is sandwiched between a carryout and barbershop on MacArthur Blvd. Photo: Cuneyt Dil/Axios

D.C.'s new medical marijuana rules are being tested with the proliferation of new shops, including one in the Palisades neighborhood.

Why it matters: The shop, which wants to create a "higher-end safe retail space" for medical marijuana, is the latest proposed cannabis business to face backlash due to its proximity to schools.

State of play: Many residents in the upscale neighborhood are fighting Green Theory from opening at 4828 MacArthur Blvd NW.

  • It would be on a quaint strip of small businesses — but also within 1,000 feet of five private schools, starting with Little Ivies DC preschool a couple of storefronts down and The Lab School nearby.
  • Critics are worried about children walking by a marijuana establishment, and also concerned about traffic and crime.

Zoom in: Since this is the Palisades, the opponents have some Washington firepower, including a neighbor who worked for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and architects who scrutinized the applicant's filing for a medical cannabis license.

  • A group calling itself the "1,000 Feet" group is formally protesting Green Theory's application to the D.C. Alcoholic Beverage and Cannabis Administration.
  • They draw their name from the federal drug-free school zone law, which makes it illegal to distribute marijuana within 1,000 feet of public or private schools.
  • The group filed a public records request to acquire Green Theory's original business plan submitted to the city last December, which envisioned an outdoor marijuana smoking area and "a vibe similar to the world-famous Amsterdam Coffee Shops."

What they're saying: It "sounds like an awesome business, just not in a corridor of so many young children," Jackie Puente, whose day job is in government affairs and helped establish 1,000 Feet, told Axios.

The other side: Since that filing, Green Theory co-founder Robert Martin said they are not pursuing plans for onsite marijuana use. If someone begins smoking outside after exiting the shop, "a member of staff would personally confront them," Martin said, addressing public criticism at an advisory neighborhood commission meeting on March 6. "We would also immediately call MPD."

  • In response to worries about marijuana products resembling candy being sold near schools, Martin said the edibles will look more like lozenges than gummies. "The packaging is very bland, very medical looking," he said.
  • Only patrons 21 and older with D.C. medical cannabis cards will be allowed in.

Reality check: If you're confused about D.C.'s marijuana laws, you aren't alone.

  • D.C. is encouraging the expansion of its medical marijuana industry, as Congress still bans the sale and taxation of recreational marijuana.
  • Even though D.C. prohibits dispensaries from opening within 300 feet of schools, there is an exemption in commercial areas where retail, housing, and even schools can be found.
  • And, despite the federal 1,000 feet drug-free law, the D.C. government argues that its licensed medical cannabis program is compliant.

Zoom out: A similar fight is being waged downtown in Penn Quarter, where a medical dispensary wants to open about 250 feet from the charter school BASIS DC.

What's next: The Palisades ANC formally wrote a letter of support for Green Theory's application, but not without a settlement agreement and lengthy list of guardrails, including no displays on the exterior with "visual references to cannabis" and an agreement to police public consumption of weed.

  • The Alcoholic Beverage and Cannabis Administration meets every Wednesday and could consider Green Theory's application within the coming weeks.
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