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DC's Complicated Weed Laws Actually Just Saved a Man From Going to Federal Prison
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A federal court overturned the conviction of a man charged with selling weed in the nation’s capital because the amount he possessed is technically legal under DC law.
Published on September 14, 2020

A man who was about to get locked behind bars for selling weed will now walk free, thanks to a Washington DC law that makes it legal for adults to possess up to two ounces of pot.

The case began in August of 2017, when US Park Police pulled Darnell Kornegay over for violating the city's window tint laws. The cops searched Kornegay's car and discovered several plastic bags containing 1.73 ounces of weed. According to the court documents, a further inspection of the car turned up $769 in cash, empty plastic bags, and a digital scale covered with a “green plant like material residue.” 

Based on this discovery, Kornegay was arrested and charged with possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance (PWID). And because the cops that made the arrest were federal officers, the case was tried in a federal court. At the trial, Kornegay, who was only 22 at the time, argued that he was not selling weed, but was instead planning on gifting some of his weed to a friend for her birthday.

In 2014, Washington DC voters approved a ballot measure that made it legal for any adult in the city to possess up to two ounces of cannabis. The measure did not legalize weed sales in the city, but did make it legal for any adult to gift up to an ounce of pot to another adult. Kornegay and his attorneys argued that the amount of weed that he possessed was within the limits of this law, but prosecutors argued that the presence of the scale, cash, and baggies proved that he was selling pot.

The court ruled against Kornegay and found him guilty, but the young man appealed, and the case moved to the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. On September 3rd, this court agreed with Kornegay's arguments and overturned his conviction, mandating that the lower court vacate the case from their records. 

The court ruled that “Mr. Kornegay did not commit the crime of possession with intent to distribute marijuana. Mr. Kornegay was old enough to legally possess a lawful amount of marijuana, the amount he possessed did not exceed the limit under the law, and he did nothing that could be construed as making the marijuana he possessed available for sale so as to render his conduct unlawful. Accordingly, we conclude that Mr. Kornegay’s PWID conviction cannot stand.”

The senior judge on the court issued a dissenting opinion arguing that Kornegay's “car was effectively a mobile marijuana store,” but the majority of the judges ruled that there was not enough proof to charge the man with actually selling weed.

After the ruling was made public, two activists who helped push for DC's cannabis legalization initiative in 2014 called attention to this important case. Adam Eidinger and Nikolas Schiller, who are also working on the campaign to decriminalize natural psychedelics in the nation's capital, believe that other DC residents who have been charged with similar crimes “might be able to successfully appeal their case” based on the precedent of this ruling. 

Eidinger also told Marijuana Moment that he believes that the precedent set by this ruling could discourage further prosecutions of people for PWID in cases where the evidence is lacking.

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Chris Moore
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Chris Moore is a New York-based writer who has written for Mass Appeal while also mixing records and producing electronic music.
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