WASHINGTON - It’s springtime in Washington, D.C. And while some people may be planting their gardens, others may be planting indoors -- growing marijuana plants. To help them get seeds, two marijuana seed exchanges recently took place in the nation’s capital.
In February, after it became legal for residents 21 and older to possess pot for recreational use, people wanted seeds to grow it. That’s legal, but because Congress controls much of what happens in Washington, lawmakers put language in its budget to block the city’s funding for regulating marijuana use -- setting up a host of challenges. People are allowed to have a small amount of the drug, and to share it with others. But they can't smoke it in public, or buy or sell it. Residents are permitted to grow up to six plants for their personal use in their homes.
Outside a local Washington restaurant where one of the seed exchanges was held, people stood in long lines that wrapped around the block.
Pat Thompson, 62, who said he’s been smoking pot for 47 years, was there for the same reason as a lot of people. “We're allowed to smoke it but we're not allowed to purchase it anywhere,” he explained.
The event was sponsored by the D.C. Cannabis Campaign, which pushed the initiative to legalize marijuana for recreational use.
Campaign member Poncho Popcorn said the seed exchange helped people who may not be able to get seeds unless it’s illegally.
“So the answer to that is to grow your own,” she said.
Lidio Arais brought seeds but says he doesn't smoke pot. He said a friend gave him some seeds while he was in Colorado a couple of months ago, where it's been legal to buy and sell marijuana for more than a year.
“So I came to share the seeds that he gave me,” he said.
Some people came because they use marijuana for medical purposes, which was legalized in the city five years ago. Among them is Jason Drawhorn, who wants to grow his own plants instead of buying marijuana at a licensed dispensary. He says pot helps him cope with diabetes.
“While it doesn't take away those problems,” he said, “it absolutely takes away a lot of the anxiety and stress I feel from day to day living with a chronic illness.”
Lawrence Thomas said he’s been growing marijuana for some time and came to the restaurant to add to his collection of seeds. He said the plants can be difficult to grow.
“[The] plants take a lot of love, so if you're a nurturing person then it's easy,” he said. If not, then I don't suggest it because you'll be wasting your time and money.”
The seed exchanges were a long time coming, according to Malik Burnett, policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance, which promotes liberalizing the country’s drug regulations.
“Naturally, the most optimum sort of situation is when you can have a robust regulatory market where people can come in and gain access to cannabis, and know all about the strains they are getting,” he said. “But until that time, we have to work with what we've got.”
He’s hoping the budding movement will spread across the United States, even though it’s still illegal to possess marijuana under federal law.