Last Saturday I visited one of the most successful retail outlets in America. It was in the backyard of a private house in Washington, D.C., and the store didn’t have a name.
Hundreds of people paid $5 to shuffle around a postage-stamp lawn, surrounded by merchants behind card tables loaded with an organic product they grew in their basement or a friends’.
It was jammed. Jammed with buyers. Jammed with sellers. Lines five people long craned necks to compare vendor offerings. Folks were polite, patient. There was a sweet-sour smell in the air. Moronic rap music played.
And there were more sales per-square-foot than Macy’s has seen in 10 years. Some merchants were busy building a brand, some were moonlighting, picking up a grand or two. Bottom line, entrepreneurs were making good money in face-to-face interactions with customers.
Buyers paid $10 for a lighter or a fruit juice. The merchant handed over the juice along with a gram or two of the product with brand names like Purple Haze or James Bond. The staff at Mamajuana Edibles’ table included two cookies or three mini-brownies with the product baked inside when you bought a lighter or sticker with the ME brand.
No taxes were paid. There was no regulation, no guarantee the product would deliver as promised. Merchants were constrained only by the threat of negative word of mouth and social media blasts.
You probably guessed, the organic product is marijuana.
In DC small amounts of marijuana are legal for adults to consume behind closed doors. It can’t be smoked in public. It can’t be sold. That’s why merchants pay around $40 for table space at a glorified flea market. And buyers pay $10-$20 for a lighter, and get some MJ as a bonus.
Recreational MJ became legal in DC in 2015 following a ballot initiative approved by nearly 70% of voters. Then a Republican rider on a spending bill stopped DC from spending any funds enacting its new initiative. The U.S. House controls the DC budget.
That means MJ is legal for consumption in prescribed ways. But DC government provides no regulatory oversight.
Local entrepreneurs responded by setting up the wide-open flea markets. Some are making a killing. Probably safe to assume police will decide this can’t continue*. Busts will drive the flea markets underground for a time.
Whether you approve of MJ or not, pray we don’t go back to kids standing on street corners selling MJ to folks driving in from Bethesda. That’s what legal was supposed to solve. Until Congress put a stop to it.
*This links to a Washington Post article that you may not be able to read for free.