Pot fans, foes fume as Washington DC tests limits of high life

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Public Weighs in on Marijuana Legalization

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- Almost a year has passed since it became legal to smoke, but not sell, marijuana in Washington, D.C., and pot enthusiasts and opponents alike are chafing under a compromise that leaves smokers in a haze over how to obtain their weed.

Sales of equipment to grow the plants indoors are booming, bartenders are getting joints as tips and the city council is deliberating whether to license cannabis clubs.

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Pot fans, foes fume as Washington DC tests limits of high life
The dispensary area at Columbia Care, one of New York City's first medicinal marijuana dispensaries, is seen, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016, in New York. New Yorkers with cancer, AIDS, Parkinson's disease or other qualifying conditions will be able to obtain medical marijuana as early as Thursday, 18 months after lawmakers passed what is considered one of the strictest medical cannabis programs in the nation. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
In this Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2015 photo, cookbooks for use with marijuana are available inside of Salveo Health and Wellness, a licensed medical cannabis dispensary, in Canton, Ill. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
A sample of cannabis is shown in a sniffer at Shango Premium Cannabis, in Portland , Ore., Thursday, Oct. 1, 2015. Oregon marijuana stores have begun sales to recreational users, marking a big day for the budding pot industry in the state. Some of the more than 250 dispensaries in Oregon that already offer medical marijuana opened their doors early Thursday to begin selling the drug just moments after it became legal to do so. (AP Photo/Timothy J. Gonzalez)
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 07: A man leaves Columbia Care, the first medical marijuana dispensary in New York City on January 7, 2016 in New York City. The law allowing medical marijuana was signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2014; the law stipulates that the legal marijuana may not be ingested by smoking it. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
Corey Young, a founder of courier service CannaRabbit LLC, picks up a delivery of marijuana from a dispensary as part of a wholesale transfer in Denver, Colorado, U.S., on Friday, March 27, 2015. CannaRabbit and peers are rushing in as regional truckers and nationwide haulers United Parcel Service Inc. and FedEx Corp. steer clear of transporting marijuana on concerns over the lack of nationwide clearance of a practice that is still illegal in most states. Photographer: Matthew Staver/Bloomberg via Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 8: Takoma Wellness Center is a family run medical marijuana dispensary in Washington, DC. Employee, David Malpica, sets up the dispensary room before business hours on Sunday, March 8, 2015. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Marijuana sits on a counter after being delivered to a dispensary by the courier service CannaRabbit LLC in Louisville, Colorado, U.S., on Friday, March 27, 2015. CannaRabbit and peers are rushing in as regional truckers and nationwide haulers United Parcel Service Inc. and FedEx Corp. steer clear of transporting marijuana on concerns over the lack of nationwide clearance of a practice that is still illegal in most states. Photographer: Matthew Staver/Bloomberg via Getty Images
LOS ANGELES, CA JULY 05, 2014 --- Shoppers lined up at one of many pot vendors stall at cannabis farmers market organized by California Heritage Market at West Coast Collective, a marijuana dispensary in Boyle Heights. (Photo by Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
Vendors and growers prepare their displays for card-carrying medical marijuana patients attending Los Angeles' first-ever cannabis farmer's market at the West Coast Collective medical marijuana dispensary, on the fourth of July, or Independence Day, in Los Angeles, California on July 4, 2014 where organizer's of the 3-day event plan to showcase high quality cannabis from growers and vendors throughout the state. AFP PHOTO/Frederic J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
Containers of the medical marijuana product known as 'Wax' are displayed at Los Angeles' first-ever cannabis farmer's market at the West Coast Collective medical marijuana dispensary, on the fourth of July, or Independence Day, in Los Angeles, California on July 4, 2014 where organizer's of the 3-day event plan to showcase high quality cannabis from growers and vendors throughout the state. AFP PHOTO/Frederic J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
Customers wait in line early in the morning at Amazon Organics, a pot dispensary in Eugene, Ore., to purchase recreational marijuana on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2015. Oregon marijuana shops began selling marijuana Thursday for the first time to recreational users who are at least 21 years old, marking a big day for the budding pot industry. (AP Photo/Ryan Kang)
In this Oct. 20, 2015 photo, Shamay Flaharty, of Lewiston, Ill., who has multiple sclerosis and is hoping cannabis will help ease her pain and headaches, leaves with Eric Sweatt, partner and manager of Salveo Health and Wellness, a licensed medical cannabis dispensary, in Canton, Ill. Illinois will begin its first medical marijuana sales within the next two weeks. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
In this Wednesday, July 29, 2015 photo A.J. Lessa, of Cumberland, R.I., a patient advisor at the Thomas C. Slater Compassion Center, arranges marijuana products in a display case at the center in Providence, R.I. Rhode Island officials say revenues from taxing and regulating medical marijuana have been lower than projected in the two years that dispensaries have been legal. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
This photo taken March 28, 2014 shows Cherry City Compassion, a medical marijuana store in Salem, Ore. Until now, medical pot shops have operated in a gray area. That's changed under a law passed last year that legalizes medical marijuana dispensaries so long as they apply for and are granted a license. (AP Photo/Chad Garland)
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Both smokers and police complain that the city's ban on sales, imposed by congressional conservatives, are leaving residents to bump up against legal limits around the drug.

"It is kind of the Alice in Wonderland of cannabis legalization. It's like there's all these rules and regulations that no one follows," said Alex Jeffrey, executive director of DC NORML, a marijuana reform advocacy group.

Possession and transfer of small amounts of marijuana became legal in the city of 660,000 people on Feb. 26, 2015, following overwhelming approval in a 2014 referendum. The states of Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska have also made pot lawful for recreational use through referendums, although it remains illegal under federal law.

Those states have cleared the way for sales of pot, creating a bustling trade in smokable and edible versions of the drug. Campaigns are under way in a half-dozen other U.S. states, including California and Massachusetts, to place legalization initiatives on ballots this November.

Last year Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser and other city leaders limited pot to home cultivation and consumption when Congress, which has oversight over the heavily Democratic city, blocked sales through a rider, or add-on, to a spending bill.

Before legalization, city finance officials estimated the District marijuana market at $130 million a year.

"This limbo that we're in because of the congressional rider is untenable," said District Councilmember Brianne Nadeau. "It's a big problem."

Nadeau and other lawmakers voted unanimously this month to study whether to license private pot clubs.

Proponents say the clubs would provide a place to smoke for people living in federal public housing or who do not want to smoke in front of their children.

GROW YOUR OWN

The Washington law has meant a "green rush" of cultivation in basements, bedrooms and closets. The 2015 District of Columbia State Fair even started a "Best Bud" marijuana category.

Pot advocates estimate that from 500 to 1,000 people are growing for maximum yield.

One grower, a 29-year-old retail worker, last month tended 5-foot-high (1.5-meter high) plants thriving inside black grow tents in a bedroom that had a whiff of fertilizer and was cluttered with chemicals, security cameras and LED lamps.

The rewiring job to handle the power load was paid for in pot. Part of the harvest goes to backers who helped bankroll his $25,000 in equipment.

"It sucks because we have to create these very convoluted, weird explanations in order to dance around the weak laws that are around right now," said the man, who asked that his name not be used.

Sales of pot-growing equipment have boomed. Capital City Hydroponics now sells as many starter kits in a day as it did in a typical week before legalization, said clerk John Diango.

"All walks of life come in here, young to old, all classes, all creeds and colors," he said.

Just 276 people were arrested for pot-related violations in the District last year, down from 4,814 in 2011, according to federal prosecutors.

Leroy Burton, a former head of the District's police union, said that before pot was legal, officers had been able to use possession as leverage against suspects. That edge is now gone, he said.

One of the rare arrests came in December, when two men were busted for providing "Kush God" brand pot brownies and gummies to passersby out of cars for weeks in exchange for donations. Police seized the pair's Lexus and two Mercedes cars, all decorated with images of marijuana buds.

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