What's the deal with smoking pot in public?

by Darrell Chambers

We’ve all been there, right?

Is that guy walking down the street smoking weed? It smells like pot in the park. What’s that smell by the pool? Did you catch the pungent odor of pot on that group of teenagers in Duncan Donuts? That woman is lighting up a joint right here on the Metro!  If my kid gets caught with pot, will she be arrested?

Many of our friends and neighbors have the same questions when faced with the open and very public pot smoking in our community. Where can people legally consume (smoke, eat, drink) pot? Since pot is legal, can my boss fire me if he finds out I smoke? Let's take a look at the issue of pot in public.

Though pot was legalized in the District as of February 26, 2015, navigating DC’s seemingly ever-changing legalized pot law sometimes requires the dexterity of Simone Biles. In fact, as recently as April of this year, over a year after pot was legalized in DC, the City Council acted to ban any kind of marijuana use outside of private residences. Through all the misinformation, misinterpretations, and misunderstandings one thing has remained clear: transferring money, goods, or services in exchange for any amount of pot is a great way to land yourself in the DC Jail. 

So what’s the deal with DC’s legalized marijuana law? In a nutshell, it is only ok to consume pot in a private residence. Walking down the street, hanging out at the community pool, or sitting on the Metro are not appropriate places to light up. And if you’re under 21, it is never ok to possess or consume pot. 

If you’re over 21, it's legal to...:

  • Have up to 2 ounces of pot on you for your personal use
  • Give (as a gift) up to one ounce of marijuana to another person who is at least 21
  • Grow (at home) up to six marijuana plants, no more than three of which are mature
  • Possess marijuana-related paraphernalia
  • Use marijuana on private property

It's illegal to... The following could result in your becoming an involuntary guest of the Department of Corrections (or DYRS if you’re a juvenile):

  • Having more than 2 ounces of pot
  • Selling pot
  • Driving under the influence of pot
  • Consuming pot in any public space like a street, sidewalk, park, or even inside a business

Marijuana use by kids under 21 is not permitted by DC’s legalized marijuana laws, period.

(photo: tanjila ahmed)

(photo: tanjila ahmed)

However, if a person under 21 is found with two ounces or less of pot, it is MPD policy to seize the marijuana without arresting or ticketing the person. MPD officers may arrest anyone, whether under or over the age of 21, if the person is in possession of more than two ounces of pot. Since DC’s laws do not trump federal controlled substance laws, a federal law enforcement officer may arrest any person on any federal property located anywhere in the District for possessing or consuming any amount of marijuana. (Note that many of the parks -- like the Sherman and Grant Circles and Rock Creek Park -- are federal land managed by the National Park Service. You can definitely be arrested smoking pot on federal parkland.)

As far as maintaining your employment while taking advantage of the District’s legalized marijuana laws, it’s pretty simple. If you work for the federal government here in DC, or a DC company that prohibits the use of controlled substances in their employee handbook, workplace rules, or employer procedures, marijuana use is not an option for you.

View FAQs from the Mayor's office

View FAQs from the Mayor's office

Additionally, DC’s legalized marijuana laws have no impact on DC government’s current drug testing policies and procedures as they relate to DC government employees, according to an administrative issuance from DCHR on June 27, 2016 and Initiative 71. The Initiative makes it clear that the ability of DC government agencies to establish and enforce policies restricting the use of marijuana by employees is not affected by the legalized pot law. While there may be ways to avoid termination, suspension, or other adverse employment consequences after getting caught using a controlled substance, these are not guaranteed and not worth the trouble smoking pot will bring. "Just say no."

For community members who are concerned or offended by marijuana use in or near the businesses or public spaces they frequent, it is important to remember that anyone can still report marijuana use that they perceive to be unlawful to MPD. Officers will respond and determine, based on their training, whether the use is lawful and take police action, where appropriate.

Bottom line: if you insist on doing your best impression of Cheech & Chong’s Up In Smoke, keep it in the house.


This is the first article by new Petworth News contributing writer Darrell Chambers. Darrell runs his own law firm in the area, but nothing he posts on Petworth News is legal advice, etc. Learn more about Darrell and the new contributing writers on the About Petworth News page.

Darrell Chambers

Darrell Chambers writes about legal issues that impact the Petworth community. He’s a native New Yorker who has lived in the DMV since 1994. He graduated from the University of Baltimore School of Law in May 1997 and has practiced law in the area for the past 18 years, including eight years with the DC Office of the Attorney General (OAG). Darrell lives in Brightwood where he recently launched The Chambers Firm LLC, practicing civil and criminal defense, employment discrimination, small business representation, and wills & estates. Obviously, Darrell’s contributions or comments on Petworth News are for information purposes only and are not intended as legal advice on any topic, and does not create an attorney-client relationship between the reader or any other person or entity and the Chambers Firm LLC. 



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