It's hard to justify $45 for a black T-shirt, but the customer at a store in a Washington DC neighborhood does so without question. The clerk grabs a clear plastic box containing about one gram of marijuana and drops it into the bag, reciting a practiced line: "Thank you and here's a gift for you to have as a souvenir." It's another satisfied customer in the so-called District of Cannabis, the unique legal and commercial space spawned by the DC's unusual approach to marijuana legalization. The AP reports a 2014 ballot initiative to legalize recreational use passed overwhelmingly. But unlike the eight states that have legalized recreational use, the DC initiative also maintained it was still illegal to buy or sell the drug.
So instead of the marijuana storefronts common in Colorado or Nevada, DC has developed a thriving "gift economy" marijuana industry. These businesses sell everything from coffee cups to artwork—all overpriced and all coming with a little something extra. It's a curious legal and semantic tightrope, and one DC's politicians and police seem determined to keep walking. The local government didn't choose to make DC a real-time sociology lab for alternative legalization. The roots of this strange legal middle ground lie in DC's tortured relationship with the federal government. All DC laws are subject to review by a congressional committee, which can veto them or alter them. In fact, DC's strange system arose from a single Republican representative. Read more about the District of Cannabis here. (Read more marijuana stories.)