Hemp shops concerned about DC law that would require them to get cannabis license

Hemp stores in D.C. are crying foul as they’re getting swept in with marijuana gifting shops in the District’s emergency legislation that requires Initiative 71 Stores to get a medical cannabis retailer license. 

At Flowerz on Capitol Hill, they sell vapes, edibles and pretty much everything you'd see at a shop selling marijuana but it's hemp — a product that was legalized by Congress in the 2018 Farm Bill. 

But the owners say D.C. is treating them like a marijuana store and wrongly forcing them to get a medical cannabis retailer license.

The difference between hemp and marijuana is in the numbers: Hemp can only have a maximum 0.3% Delta-9 THC on a dry-weight basis. Delta-9 THC is the psychoactive component and marijuana has no threshold. 

Flowerz sells all kinds of hemp products and unlike marijuana dispensaries, they can ship orders to 47 states across the country and make deposits in FDIC-insured banks. But after a visit from D.C.'s Alcohol Beverage and Cannabis Administration last month, they say their business is at risk.

"For them to come into our shop and tell us we were doing something wrong when one we're 100% federally legal and two we take these standards really to heart to make sure people trust what they're consume, it was really disappointing, really frustrating, really scary of an experience," Flowerz owner Kaitlin Murphy told FOX 5. 

MORE FROM FOX 5: Marijuana gifting businesses could be shut down in DC 

D.C.'s Medical Cannabis Program Enforcement Emergency Act of 2024 takes aim at I-71 gifting shops, compelling them to comply with medical licensing retailer requirements. The emergency law does not exempt hemp shops. 

Traditionally, conservative states like Georgia and Tennessee distinguish hemp from marijuana and license hemp growers for a nominal fee. 

Marijuana legal expert Justin Tepe says hemp shops operate in a legal grey area and that Congress didn't necessarily intend to include intoxication-inducing hemp-derived products when it passed the Farm Bill in 2018, but the horse is out of the barn he says.

"Hemp can be used for all sorts of different industrial uses so the Farm Bill was targeting that but what a lot of really smart chemists found out was there are compounds in the hemp plant that were legalized by the Farm Bill that if you go through the right isomerization processes, they can intoxicate you," Tepe said. "It's a gray area at best I think."

The owners of flowers say they welcome regulation. They already test all of their products at DEA-approved labs, something that is not required for D.C.'s medical dispensaries or gifting shops.

FOX 5 has reached out to Mayor Bowser's office and Councilmember Allen, who pushed the emergency legislation through but we have not yet gotten a response.