If you live in Washington, D.C., you should understand the area’s drug and alcohol laws. The nation’s capital has strict laws about possessing and selling most drugs, and the laws also ban drinking and driving. Keep reading to learn more about the specifics and to look at the penalties.

DUI Laws in Washington D.C.

Washington, D.C. classifies drinking and driving into 3 different categories. If you operate a vehicle while impaired by drugs or alcohol, you can face an OWI and the following penalties:

  • 1st OWI: up to 90 days in jail and $500 fine.
  • 2nd OWI: 5 days to 1 year in jail and a $1000 to $2500 fine.
  • 3rd OWI: 10 days to 1 year in jail and a $1000 to $5000 fine.

If you have a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08% or higher, you can be charged with driving while intoxicated (DWI). D.C. also has laws against driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol (DUI). Regardless of your BAC, you can face DUI charges if you don’t have the clarity needed to operate a motor vehicle.

Here are the DUI/DWI penalties:

  • 1st DUI/DWI: Up to 180 days in jail and a $1000 fine
  • 2nd DUI/DWI: 10 days to 1 year in jail and a $2500 to $5000 fine.
  • 3rd DUI/DWI: 15 days to 1 year in jail and a $2500 to $10000 fine.

If your BAC is 0.20% or higher, you face an additional 5 day mandatory jail sentence. If you’re over 0.25% BAC, you get 10 extra days in jail. Finally, anything over 0.30% leads to 15 more days in jail. You also face additional penalties if you have passengers under the age of 16 in your vehicle.

Zero Tolerance Laws for Washington D.C.

If you are under 21, you are subject to D.C.’s zero tolerance laws. These laws ban drivers in this age group from having any alcohol in their systems. 

Is Marijuana Legal in Washington D.C.?

As of 2/26/2015, adults over the age of 21 can legally possess recreational marijuana in Washington, D.C. The laws also permit medical marijuana. Here is an overview of D.C.’s marijuana laws:

  • Adults 21 years and older can have up to 2 ounces.
  • They can give other adults 1 ounce.
  • They can grow up to 6 plants each.
  • Homes can have up to 12 plants, but only 6 can be mature or flowering.
  • You cannot legally use marijuana in public, but the penalty is just a citation and release. You don’t face fines or jail time.
  • Individuals cannot sell or intend to sell marijuana.

Selling up to ½ pound, you can face up to 6 months in jail and a $1,000 fine. Subsequent offenses, the penalty is up to 2 years in jail and a $5,000 fine. For selling amounts over 1/2 pound, the penalty is up to 5 years in jail and a $50,000 fine. 

People under 21 cannot possess recreational marijuana. In fact, they cannot even legally possess paraphernalia such as pipes or bongs. For having these items, youth can face up to 30 days in jail and a $100 fine.

Drug and Alcohol Related Crimes

As indicated above, Washington, D.C. has laws against drinking and driving. Even though marijuana is legal in some situations, the district also has laws banning the sale of marijuana and possession for people under 21.

Additionally, you cannot legally possess, sell, grow, or manufacture illicit drugs. In D.C. drug laws apply to substances such as heroin, cocaine, and meth, but laws also apply to the misuse of prescription drugs.

For having drugs without a prescription, you can face a fine and up to a year in prison. The police will notify your parents if you are 17 or under. Selling prescription drugs can lead to prison for between 2 and 20 years and a fine of up to $10,000. 

Penalties for Drug or Alcohol Abuse in Washington D.C.

D.C. laws allow judges to sentence first-term drug offenders to probation before judgment. If you complete probation successfully, your arrest record and case get sealed. You don’t have the conviction on your record. But if you break probation, you face judgment.

However, judges do not have to offer probation. You can face serious penalties even for first time offenses. The penalties vary based on the type of drug, but to show you how seriously Washington, D.C. takes drugs, look at the penalties for cocaine and heroin:

  • 1st time for possession: up to 180 days in jail and up to a $1000 fine.
  • 2nd time for possession: up to 360 days in jail and up to a $2000 fine.
  • Distributing or intending to distribute: up to 30 years in prison, up to a $500,000 fine, or both.

Addiction can drive people to make unfortunate choices. Don’t let the law catch you with drugs. To protect yourself, get help now. If you are struggling with drug or alcohol abuse, contact a treatment center in your local area. They can explain options and help you get on the path to sobriety.


  1. District of Columbia cocaine laws. (2015, May 4)
  2. District of Columbia laws & penalties – Working to reform marijuana laws. (2020, May 28)
  3. Driving under the influence. (n.d.)
  4. Prescription pills. (n.d.)
  5. Washington D.C. drunk and drugged driving laws and penalties. (2010, July 7)

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