Meet Nicholas Cunningham, one of D.C.’s most seasoned gift economy vets. The entrepreneur started Kush Gods, a donation-based cannabis company putting their brand (and bud) front and center. With a fleet of vinyl-wrapped luxury vehicles emblazoned with the Kush Gods logo and imagery of dank nugs, Cunningham and his team drive around the city, offering infused edibles in exchange for donations.
On any given Friday night in the summer of 2016, it was common to see the Kush Gods’ Mercedes parked on U Street — the main drag uniting several of Northwest D.C.’s hippest neighborhoods — hawking magic brownies in exchange for a $10 donation on the spot.
But while Cunningham was under the impression that asking for donations instead of payment would protect him from the law, D.C.’s Metro Police Department caught him in a sting operation and charged the Kush God with two counts of selling marijuana. After months of running through legal hoops, Cunningham plead out and was given two years’ probation under the condition that he recuse himself from further cannabis-related business.
Despite the arrest, Cunningham was still under the impression that he was following the law of the land; he even walked out of court and told news cameras that the Kush Gods would be back in business the next day. And they were, under a new model that has cannabis recipients sign a form unequivocally stating that they are making a donation to the Kush Gods and not purchasing anything.
Yet thanks to the Kush Gods’ loud street presence and Cunningham’s openness with the media, a judge revoked his probation, and the man behind Kush Gods began 2017 by serving 60 days in jail. If you ask Cunningham, it was all a play to get his attention-grabbing cars off the street and make an example out of him.
While D.C.’s unregulated form of legalization means that breaking the rules can land you in jail, cannabis is still legal in the District, and the result of the Kush Gods’ case has been more like a regulatory fine than a death sentence for the company. Cunningham’s arrest pushed the limits of Initiative 71, but it’s also allowed him, and a handful of newer gift economy businesses, to figure out how they can comply with local legislation.