Pubdate: Sun, 13 Sep 2015
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 2015 The Washington Post Company
Author: Aaron C. Davis


As Their Crops Mature, Growers Cook Up Ways to Profit From Surplus Yield

In upper Northwest Washington, marijuana buds the size of zucchinis 
hang drying in a room once reserved for yoga. In the Shaw 
neighborhood, pot grown in a converted closet sits meticulously 
trimmed, weighed and sealed in jars. Elsewhere, from Georgetown to 
Capitol Hill to Congress Heights, seven-leafed weeds are flowering in 
bedrooms, back yards and window boxes.

Welcome to the first crop of legal pot in the nation's capital - 
where residents may grow and possess marijuana but are still 
forbidden to sell it.

In recent weeks, a small army of mostly novice gardeners who took up 
growing when the District legalized marijuana in February have begun 
to roll, pack and smoke the joints, bongs and bowls of their labor. 
By one estimate, they have collectively grown upward of 100 pounds 
with a street value north of a half-million dollars - far more than 
most of these amateur cultivators are likely to consume on their own.

All of which presents a thorny question for District leaders and 
police in a city where cultivation and possession are legal but sales 
are not: How the heck will all this pot get from those who have it to 
those who want it?

A fitness instructor who took up the hobby six months ago has amassed 
enough pot to make tens of thousands of dollars selling it. Instead, 
he's begun giving away a little bit to anyone who pays for a massage. 
The instructor asked not to be named out of concern that he or his 
home, where he sometimes serves clients, could become targets for criminals.

A T-shirt vendor in Columbia Heights who declined to comment may be 
working in a similar gray area. College students say the roving stand 
has become known to include a "gift" of a bag of marijuana inside a 
purchase for those who tip really well. And recently, dozens of 
people paid $125 for a class in Northwest Washington to learn about 
cooking with cannabis from a home grower. Free samples were included.

Andrew Paul House, 27, a recent law school graduate, may be the best 
early test case for whether home growers can find a way to make money 
from their extra pot.

House has started a corporation and a sleek Web site to order 
deliveries of homegrown marijuana to D.C. residents' doorsteps - 
"free gifts" in exchange for donations to the company, akin to a 
coffee mug given to donors by a public radio station.

"I believe we are following the letter and the spirit of the law," 
House said of the business he has named the Premium Club. "There's 
this gap period where there is no retail and there is no regulation. 
My purpose is to step into that in-between time when there won't be 
enough marijuana for adults to use recreationally and allow for the 
legal transfer under the initiative."

Legalization limbo

None of this is what advocates for marijuana legalization who 
authored last year's overwhelmingly successful ballot measure 
intended. They anticipated that if endorsed by voters, the D.C. 
Council would go the way of Colorado and Washington state and set up 
a legal system of sales and taxation.

Instead, conservatives in Congress blocked the city from doing so 
using their federal oversight of the District's affairs. But Mayor 
Muriel E. Bowser (D) and Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier went forward 
with what the letter of the ballot measure allowed, legalizing 
everything but sales.

And they insisted in February that, despite the legal limbo, a gray 
market for marijuana would not be tolerated.

But a lot has happened since then, namely a 40 percent spike in 
homicides that has monopolized the attentions of both Bowser and 
Lanier and led to a reorganization of the city's narcotics 
investigators to focus on major streams of drugs into the city.

That has left untouched a cottage industry taking root from the 
inside out, said Delroy Burton, head of the D.C. Police Union. 
Marijuana has become tolerated in the city so much that the D.C. 
State Fair added a marijuana-growing competition to its lineup of 
events Saturday. The "Best Bud" category joined the fair's growing 
list of competitions.

"People are disguising sales as thank-you gifts, but they are being 
smart about it, distributing in a way that they cannot be charged 
with distribution," Burton said.

Lanier's department directed questions to the Bowser administration. 
Kevin Donahue, the city's deputy mayor for public safety, said the 
administration remains focused on those trying to push the envelope 
of the new law. Representatives of the city's health and police 
departments, as well as its licensing and business agencies, have met 
every other week since February, but the group has yet to identify 
anyone operating outside the bounds of the law.

LaQuandra Nesbitt, Bowser's health director, chairs the group and 
said it has mostly field questions from individuals asking for advice 
on whether activities are allowed. A handful have done so, including 
one who requested a blessing to operate a public cooking display with 
cannabis. He was advised to use a stand-in herb.

Residents' views of what's allowed are often wrong, Nesbitt said, but 
the administration has not gone on the offensive. "We don't actively 
police peoples' homes," Nesbitt said.

"Keep in mind that the spirit, intent and letter of the law is 
supposed to decriminalize a practice that can lead to overpolicing 
and overincarceration," Donahue added. Asked about the Premium Club, 
Donahue said it didn't necessarily sound like strict "home grow, home 
use" - Bowser's mantra for what's allowable. Despite a promise to do 
so, the administration has not yet launched a public awareness 
campaign around that message.

That, for now, has left the little-discussed ballot provision for 
home cultivation and the escalating supply it is producing the most 
problematic. The fruition of marijuana legalization in the District 
now looks like this:

 From seedlings planted in red Solo cups on Day 2 of legalization in 
February, the fitness instructor and his friend, an expert in federal 
banking transactions who has grown pot before in Virginia, now have a 
supply to make any street dealer jealous.

On a recent Saturday, the two spent hours harvesting nearly a pound 
of marijuana as a portable air conditioner pumped recycled air 
through a large carbon filter. Incense burned near the front door of 
the apartment to mask the smell from anyone passing by.

The two allowed a reporter and a photographer to observe the harvest 
on the condition that their identities remain anonymous. The 
financial-securities expert said he fears his marijuana hobby could 
stigmatize him among colleagues at a suit-and-tie day job.

Under the ballot measure, District residents are allowed to "possess, 
grow, harvest or process, within the interior of a house or rental 
unit . . . no more than six cannabis plants, with three or fewer 
being mature, flowering plants."

If more than one adult lives in the residence, the upper limits are 
twelve plants with six being mature at any one time. Those rules are 
among the most liberal in the nation; the District assigns, for 
example, no definition for the size of a full plant - as California 
and other states have.

As a result, by staggering the growth of seedlings in four modified 
tool cabinets purchased from Home Depot, the two are on pace to 
harvest roughly a pound a month - enough to roll about 1,000 joints.

Another grower who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of 
concerns about security has built an even more sophisticated growing 
room and expects a yield of medicinal-quality marijuana to "share" 
with friends suffering from a variety of ailments. The grower went 
through a months-long process of applying for a city building permit 
and having contractors and electricians outfit a new $6,000 room 
constructed in his Adams Morgan home solely for growing pot.

The vented and sealed chamber recently passed a city inspection, and 
the plants were moved in.

Many have tried to take a more organic approach to growing, using 
natural light and the District's summer weather to bring plants to 
maturity. Those growers have generally had less success.

Adam Eidinger, the face of last year's Initiative 71 campaign, was 
among those with a meager harvest, but Eidinger has no shortage. He 
has been gifted marijuana constantly as the harvest has come in. 
Eidinger said he has found pot on his doorstep, joints rolled up in 
tin foil and left on his car and bags simply handed to him walking 
down the street.

"I think it's a sign that people feel good about themselves and what 
they were able to grow when they give to me," he said. After his 
group gave away tens of thousands of marijuana seeds in March, it 
maintained an online photo gallery of hundreds of pictures that 
residents submitted of their growing seedlings. Based on those photos 
and visits to several homes, he estimates that about 100 pounds of 
marijuana have been harvested in recent weeks.

A 'gift economy'

House, who launched the Premium Club, declined to say how many home 
growers he is working with or how many donations or deliveries have 
been made since the Web site launched last month.

He said "business is good - definitely better than expected," and he 
is finalizing the launch of a mobile app with real-time information 
on deliveries.

Already in business for more than three weeks, House advertises that 
a portion of each $100 donation to the business will go to local 
charities. He hasn't given away any of the money yet, but he said in 
an interview that he will begin to later this month. Of the remaining 
half, he takes a cut of each donation as his salary. Through a system 
he described only as "complicated and time consuming," he said he 
directs the rest back to home growers.

The "gift" comes in a white Hallmark shopping bag. Inside is a box 
filled with marijuana and sometimes a bonus of rolling papers or an 
extra "free sample." Last week, donors were given the choice of four 
marijuana strains, including Silver Haze and Gorilla Glue.

The business appears to be slightly outside the private membership 
"cannabis clubs" that Bowser and the D.C. Council in February sought 
to prevent from forming by passing emergency legislation. Those 
restrictions would revoke the business licenses of restaurants and 
nightclubs that allow marijuana smoking on their premises.

That legislation is set to expire soon, however, and the mayor and 
council have not held any further hearings on whether to continue it 
since marijuana was legalized.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom