New doc sheds light on the 'gifting' marijuana business in DC

A new documentary that supports marijuana gifting among Black-owned business owners in the D.C. cannabis industry premiered Thursday night inside the Angelika Pop-Up at Union Market.

The film is called "Young, Gifting, and Black: D.C.’s Loudest Secret." It was created by Nia Barge and The Generational Equity Movement  (GEM) group, and it discusses this grey area for business owners in the District.

Since it's illegal to buy or sell marijuana in D.C., some businesses have thrived on selling other items like lemonade or a postcard and gifting weed with that other purchase. 

In the documentary, younger entrepreneurs talk about how some of them did not have promising job opportunities until they got into the marijuana gifting business. 


Mackenzie Manns told FOX 5 she works with seven Black-owned D.C. businesses owners as a GEM project manager. Manns said those seven owners work to be good neighbors and provide safe spaces. They also want a stake in the country’s billion-dollar cannabis industry. 

"As you’ll see in the documentary, which was a really big push to make, D.C. has, at every turn, pushed Black people out of the places that they already existed," Manns said. "We saw it with gentrification. We saw it with the war on drugs. There’s never been a spot where D.C. has uplifted the Black community and given them an opportunity to actually create and build generational wealth, and they have that opportunity right now."

Around the District, there’s also a public safety concern on the other side of this issue. Ring camera video from a February carjacking in Northeast D.C. captured the horrific screams from a mother whose child was still in the vehicle. Some neighbors of that area allege the February carjacking and other crimes are due to increasing criminal activity connected to a certain marijuana gifting business on H St. NE.

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"In my mind, they’re very problematic," said a neighbor who asked not to be identified. "I think that they are because they are not regulated. They don’t have the right security procedures in place. They don’t monitor the parking situation around them. They’re responsible for all kinds of litter and debris around the areas." 

The Mayor said her office has been actively talking to both the Biden Administration and Congress and hopes to have the matter "rectified" soon. She also spoke on the public safety issues with respect to making sure customers are purchasing a product they can trust. 

"I think that all of our businesses should be legal and follow the rules and so our path to get to legalizing and regulating is an important one. And it’s an important one for public safety in the District," Mayor Bowser told FOX 5 on Thursday. 

When Initiative 71 passed in 2014, it legalized recreational marijuana use in the District. Sales and purchases are still federally banned. In 2022, I-71 supporters had hoped the Democratic-controlled White House and Congress would finally lift the Republican-backed federal ban on legalizing sales. Congress confirmed this past week, this would not happen in 2022.

Manns told FOX 5 that I-71 supporters hope the documentary will help encourage the D.C. Council to work with their group and business owners. 

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FOX 5 was told when Congress begins working on the FY 2023 budget around October, lawmakers can once again address the federal marijuana ban, known as the "Harris Rider." We're told this could likely be an uphill battle. 

In the current omnibus framework that kept the "Harris Rider" in place, lawmakers agreed no riders would be removed without the consent of four chairs or ranking members. If there’s a similar agreement for FY23, we’re told it will be very difficult to lift the ban. 

FOX 5 asked Council Chair Phil Mendelson’s office about future plans for D.C. gifting businesses and was told in a statement: 

"Folks who are selling marijuana under the guise of ‘gifting’ are breaking the law. The law simply does not permit it. This gifting business is nothing more than a subterfuge pretending to be legal when it is not. The fact is it’s illegal because Congress will not let the District regulate the sale and distribution. Congress needs to step out of this, so we can get a handle on the public safety problem here and we can regulate this business. As it stands, gifting is hurting existing legal medical cannabis businesses, and it is fomenting criminal activity."