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At some D.C. bed and breakfasts, hosts leave fresh towels and snacks for their guests. At others, the amenities are a little greener. Some people who rent out spaces through home sharing services like Airbnb are marketing themselves as “420 friendly” or “Initiative 71 Compliant,” sending signals to potential visitors that they are free to use cannabis. Others go further, providing “gifts” of joints, edibles and other cannabis products.
We explore the rise of cannabis tourism in D.C. and discuss how local Washingtonians are trying to carve out space for themselves in a budding industry while navigating the sometimes confusing legal status of recreational marijuana use in the District.
Produced by Mark Gunnery
- Petula Dvorak Columnist, The Washington Post; @petulad
- Ayana Everett Entrepreneur and cannabis advocate
KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5. Welcome. Later in the broadcast we meet two local chefs, who are finalists for one of the most prestigious culinary awards in the country, the James Beard Awards. But first at some of D.C.'s bed and breakfast hosts leave fresh towels and snacks for their guests. At others, the amenities are a little greener and guests can expect joints and edibles. Today we're talking about the budding cannabis tourism industry in the District. Joining me in studio is Petula Dvorak. She is a columnist with The Washington Post. Petula, good to see you again.
PETULA DVORAKThank you for having me, Kojo.
NNAMDILast week you wrote a column called "Monuments, Museums, Marijuana" about the pot tourism industry in D.C. First what exactly is cannabis tourism?
DVORAKIt is the idea that there's more to D.C. than museums and monuments. There is legality and there are a whole bunch of folks, who like to partake without knowing that they're breaking the law. They're kind of goody two shoes folks who do cannabis tourism I think particularly. But it really struck me when I heard a friend who is coming in from out of town and said, "Oh yeah, D.C.'s like Amsterdam now right?" And so it was interesting to look at the map and see we really are kind of island where recreational use with a lot of restrictions is legal. And I wondered if this is something that folks are taking advantage of and sure enough, they are.
NNAMDIA major part of the new pot tourism is what you called "Bud and Breakfast." How do these work?
DVORAKIt is -- there's actually a website called "Bud and Breakfast" and it lists -- you know, it's really heavy in Oregon, California, Denver. And now thanks to a lovely lady I met last week, D.C. is on the map there. And it just is where people list, you know, their own places where they don't mind if people smoke if it's legal. And in some cases they partake, you know. I don't know if you ever did the old B&Bs years ago when, you know, there were laced doilies and blueberry muffins and usually really uncomfortable breakfasts with a bunch of strange people.
NNAMDIBeen there done that.
DVORAKRight. And so perhaps now instead of blueberry muffins they're bonding over buds.
NNAMDIWell, the lovely lady you met last week joins us in studio today. She is Ayana Everett. She is an entrepreneur and cannabis advocate. Saw you first in Petula's column about you, nice to meet you in person.
AYANA EVERETTThank you. Nice to meet you as well.
NNAMDIYou run a "Bud and Breakfast" yourself. What would a typical visitor expect from a stay in your space?
EVERETTWell, I basically just provide a space to stay. I have a dwelling, which is a one bedroom unit in D.C. in the Brooklyn area. You come in you have your Amazon Fire stick. You have a full kitchen, bathroom, and you have privacy. So I basically offer that and currently there is -- as in D.C. as we're growing, there is a construction project next door and just to kind of ease the pain of any noise next door, I offer them to two free fat pre rolls. (laugh)
NNAMDI800-433-8850. Do you have any concerns about Washington becoming a cannabis tourist destination? Give us a call, 800-433-8850. Ayana, why did you decide to start a business like this? Were you already renting out a space prior to adding the extras?
EVERETTWell, I always rented my home, but my first encounter with it was on Airbnb when I traveled to Denver and I saw a lot of listings saying they were "420 friendly." They varied in, "You can smoke inside or smoke outside." So I said, "Well, let me try one of these and see how it works." And I stayed with a guy there, who was "420 friendly." And I thought, "Well, why don't I do that to my home. I have the space available. Why not?" So I found that you can do that on Airbnb, because Airbnb likes to stay silent on that.
EVERETTAnd then I also found another site "Bud and Breakfast," which is also out of Colorado and I thought, "Maybe I can try it out here." So I kind of did an experiment where I -- one room was listed as none "420 friendly" and the other one was. And it kind of worked. So I've opened it up to all "420 friendly."
NNAMDIWeed tourism is nothing new. Amsterdam has been a stoner vacation destination for decades. What could D.C. learn from a city like that?
EVERETTWell, Amsterdam being one of my favorite (laugh) places as well --
NNAMDIWhy am I not surprised?
EVERETTI've been there probably seven or eight times, but what I love about Amsterdam, it's not necessarily legal. It's called tolerated in Amsterdam. So it is still illegal. But as long as you're not hurting someone and the government gets to reap some benefits from it, it's pretty much tolerated. But what I believe that D.C. and other states could learn from it is that they provide safe spaces for tourists to come. It adds that extra revenue. People come to enjoy the monuments here all the time. They go to bars, but why not have a facility where you can recreationally enjoy cannabis and at the same time meet others travelers and local people.
EVERETTIt gives you -- that's what happens in Amsterdam. You're able to meet other travelers. Not necessarily locals, but this is something that can expand D.C.'s bottom line. And I know that's what they're always looking for.
NNAMDII -- after visiting Amsterdam on several occasions, I'm surprised to find out that Amsterdam tolerates it. I always thought Amsterdam encouraged it as a matter of fact, but you never know. Petula, outside of three states in New England, D.C. is the only place on the eastern seaboard where recreational use of cannabis is legal. But while recreational cannabis is legal to use in Washington, D.C. isn't legal to buy or sell and it's illegal to carry in parts of the District that are federal property. Could you briefly explain the legal status of weed here?
DVORAKSure, sure. And it's super complicated as per anything in Washington. You can possess for personal use. You can't buy or sell. And that has spawned a really interesting smart and clever and a little bit sly entrepreneurs landscape here where folks, you know, you get here to D.C. You want to smoke, but you can't buy. So you could buy a half a dozen cookies. "Oh those are expensive cookies. They cost 60 bucks, because you're only paying $10 a cookie." But there's a free gift, a joint. So, you know, a lot of folks did this with paintings. They did this with stickers.
DVORAKNow some of the legal folks I spoke with said, "That's pushing it a bit too far," because it's pretty obvious that a sticker is not worth $60. We know what you're exchanging here, but in a space like art there was one group. They shut down since then, but they were selling art by Gallaudet students and you can't put a value on art. So you can't say this piece is worth 60 bucks or 120 bucks. And that's where there's a lot of wiggle room in the hosting space that Ayana is using, because you can value your room at 90 bucks, 120 bucks.
DVORAKIt gets a little crazy when you find a place like one of the ones I found on Airbnb was $1500 a night. It was not a particularly attractive place. It was just a little cracker box with beige carpet and inflatable mattresses. And it had five star reviews. I’m like, "Wow, this place must be great." Well, 1500 bucks, you know what you're getting and that is going to be on legal shaky ground. And it will be interesting to see how D.C. handles that.
NNAMDISpeaking of legal shaky ground, here is Chris in Manassas, Virginia. Chris, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CHRISThank you, Kojo. I appreciate you taking my call. About a week ago, I received an email from Airbnb as a user notifying me that they had decided to terminate my account. They had done a background check with a company called Inflexion Risk Solutions. And they had found that in 2016 I had been charged and convicted of a felony marijuana charge, possession with intent to distribute here in Virginia.
CHRISI find it -- listening to this conversation it kind of -- it really surprises me that Airbnb would tolerate this considering the fact that they just permanently deactivated my account and told me to not contact them anymore going forward. And then one last little comment about it. The state of California doesn't even have -- well, there is no felony marijuana charge for selling in California unless you are a violent offender or you're involving minors, which my charge that was not the case. I was smoking weed in my house. My neighbors called the police and the police smelt it and they got a warrant and searched it. So I guess that's about all I had to say on the matter. I'm just confused that Airbnb would even tolerate it.
NNAMDIThank you very much for that because, Ayana, how do you navigate Airbnb regulations with this?
EVERETTWell, I researched heavily. I mean, just an easy Google search will tell you that Airbnb stays silent on that policy. Now with being a felon or anything of that, I have no clue. So I think those are two separate things and I'm just wondering if that was as a host or as a guest.
NNAMDIHe is not a host. Chris is not a host. Chris said he is member, who uses Airbnb and they said because he had a felony marijuana conviction his membership is revoked. Chris, are you still there? Are you appealing this?
CHRISI'm trying to. They told me in the email -- I'll go ahead and read this quick little quote from them. "We'll contact you if anything changes in the future, but until them we won't be able to assist you any further with your account issues. Please see our help center for further information." They did include a phone number and an email to the company that did the background check or the consumer report. I've tried calling them multiple times. The phone number just rings and rings and rings and rings.
NNAMDIWell, we'd like to take your information here after you hang up and we'll pass it on to Petula Dvorak so that if she wants to follow up on this with Airbnb she can follow up herself. And you might see another column coming out of this at some point. But thank you so much for sharing your story with us, Chris. Ayana, how do you advise out of town visitors about the legality of weed in Washington and the surrounding jurisdictions?
EVERETTWell, I let them know the rules. And then I let them know the softer rule. So I definitely refer them to the Initiative 71, which definitely gives you the amount that you can carry and how it can -- of course, they're not coming to grow anything in my house. But just the basic laydown of just the brief points of what D.C. is about. As Petula mentioned, you can gift someone something, but you can't necessarily sell it in this great area. So I do advise them of that. And then after that I say, "Well, if you walk around D.C. it smells like pot."
DVORAKIt sure does.
EVERETTIt's at your discretion at what you want to do, "but just know that it's pretty much accepted." And I also say, "Well, it's not a felony here. And it's pretty much a misdemeanor ticket that you would have to pay if you are caught." But I believe the laws have changed since then and maybe it's a $500 ticket. So I don't want to misquote that. But I do tell them, "It's really up to you. But this is how D.C. looks and this is what the landscape is."
NNAMDIPetula, it's not legal to smoke cannabis in all homes in Washington. People are prohibited from using any form of cannabis in public housing. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton is trying to change that. What would her Marijuana in Federally Assisted Housing Parity Act do if it's passed?
DVORAKCorrect, correct. And that is that is the other complicated part of Initiative 71 is the federal land. You know, obviously you can't -- it might be everyone's dream to light up with Lincoln, but you can't do that on any federal land. And they are using that part of the law to prohibit anyone in federally subsidized public housing. Eleanor Holmes Norton would like to end that and allow people both medical and recreational use in federally subsidized public housing. And frankly, I don't understand why we should -- poor people should have different laws than people, who own their houses.
DVORAKI mean, that part -- you know, you could put whatever, you know, taint you want on that and assumptions and stereotypes, but I think that having two tiers of the law when it comes to housing is dangerous. You know, when it comes to medical marijuana, I mean, you know, is it medicine or not? Where do we stand on that? You know, so you're telling that a whole group of people can't take their medicine if their doctor has prescribed it.
DVORAKNow, yeah, of course, there are lots of folks, who are eating the cookies who aren't really in pain. And doctors are loose with that. I have to say, I have a funny experience with that. My dad who's old and old world and is a conservative and crotchety as they get. He was a waiter for many years and then he worked construction in our city's public sewer district and he has really bad back and shoulder problems. And he's had surgeries and shoulder issues. And when my mom was here visiting the grandkids one weekend, grandpa was alone and he got a medical marijuana card and got a cookie.
DVORAKAnd he's like, "This is great," because one of his other old work friends --retired friends told him that. So I don't think he liked the way he felt. And he does it only occasionally. And he's actually going in for surgery today for his shoulder. But, you know, if we're going to call it medicine to tell a whole population of people that you can't take your medicine -- So Eleanor Holmes Norton is working on that and that part is interesting and, of course, will be met with more resistance.
NNAMDIOn Capitol Hill. Here's Dylan in Tacoma Park, D.C. Dylan, your turn. Well, Dylan is in Tacoma D.C. Tacoma Park is in Maryland. Go ahead, Dylan.
DYLANHey, Kojo. Thanks for taking my call. I was actually living in Tacoma Park, D.C. still in the District running an Airbnb that I listed on Airbnb as "420 friendly." It was a great experience. I really enjoyed doing it and met a lot of interesting people doing it. I actually did on my platform also allow events in my space. So, which I stopped doing after some time, because I had people coming in not telling me that they were organizing vendor related events in my space. So I had people inviting a lot more people over to use and possibly even buy cannabis. Out of respect for my neighbors, I stopped running the Airbnb.
NNAMDIAyana, how would you deal with that problem?
EVERETTI understand your pain. And also on my site -- on my Airbnb listing I do also offer people to come and use it for "420 friendly" events. And I also specifically say, "No popups," because I know that is an issue in D.C. and that police are cracking down on it. So if people are happy to host an infused dinner or a puff and paint, I open my home to that. But as Dylan said, out of respect for neighbors and just out of respect for the law, it's better to be able to screen the type of events that are going to take place in there. And there's nothing wrong with, I believe, having your home open to something like that. Again, it's another form of income. And with Airbnbs and Ubers and these type of businesses that are popping up that allow you to use your own resources to make, why not open your home up to that? But just to be very strict on who you allow in.
NNAMDILast week D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine, Councilmember David Grosso wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post saying that the cannabis distribution legal limbo prevents the District from quoting here, "addressing the glaring racial inequities that legalization was meant to ameliorate." What are they talking about and what kinds of effects does the semi legality of weed have on black Washingtonians in particular?
EVERETTWell, if you look at the amount of dispensaries that we have -- so when they did the first round of trying to distribute the licenses they had to redo it, because there were no minorities or women who were able to receive the license. Of course, the all-boys club always have first dibs on many of the things that we as black people have been unable to profit on. So if you look at the distribution of dispensaries now, Tacoma Park has one, downtown D.C. has one. And how many do you have in Ward 7 or 8? You have none.
EVERETTAnd I've heard that they are trying to get a license to open another dispensary there, but I haven't heard much since then. And maybe I'm wrong. I don't know. But it is unfortunate. And we are definitely disproportionately affected by the arrests that used to take place. And, I mean, I'm glad that they've gotten rid of that. But we're still not able to profit.
EVERETTMany of the people in the popups are people from public housing and from disadvantaged neighborhoods, who were able to capitalize on or make some money. So if you were able to legalize it in some way and then to give people the opportunity to be first in line for this, maybe this would help the disadvantaged population in D.C. And at the same time D.C. will still be able to make money off of everyone.
NNAMDIAnd, Petula Dvorak, final question. Do you expect to see cannabis tourism expand here in D.C.?
DVORAKI would think it will especially seeing Ayana's example. And, again, if, you know, D.C. is in this legal limbo now. Congress put a writer on it to kind of create this shadow outlaw, you know, duck, dodge, and dive entrepreneur economy. And law enforcement is going to get sick of it. And the folks are going to get sick of it, who should be creating, you know, businesses. And I think that's going to change soon. And, you know, look out for the tour buses with some interesting decorations.
NNAMDIPetula Dvorak is a columnist with The Washington Post. Petula, always a pleasure.
DVORAKThank you so much.
NNAMDIAyana Everett is an Entrepreneur and cannabis advocate. Ayana, thank you very much for joining us.
NNAMDIGoing to take a short break. When we come back, we'll meet two local chefs who are finalists for one of the most prestigious culinary awards in the country, the James Beard Foundation Awards. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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