Marijuana Is Legal: Now What?

On July 1, 2017, Nevada became the fifth state to legalize the sale of recreational marijuana. Thanks to millions of visitors who flock to Las Vegas every year, industry experts expect sales to outpace all other states. Anyone 21 and older with a valid ID can buy up to one ounce (28 grams) of marijuana in Nevada. It can only be used in private homes and remains illegal to consume in public, including the Las Vegas Strip, hotels and casino floors.

As of July 2017, recreational marijuana is also legal in California, Colorado, Oregon and Washington. Each state has strict laws governing the sale and use of recreational marijuana and fines for breaking these laws.

Marijuana Laws in Other States

California: If you are 21 or older, Proposition 64 made it legal to smoke marijuana for recreational purposes in November 2016. It is still illegal to buy or sell it, but adults can possess up to an ounce and grow up to six plants per household. They can also be given one ounce of marijuana or seeds as a gift. In July 2017, Gov. Jerry Brown and legislators proposed to allow medical and recreational marijuana to be sold at the same dispensaries. The state plans to begin issuing licenses for the growing, transporting, testing and sale of marijuana in January 2018. This new measure would ban open cannabis products in motor vehicles, similar to the open-container law for alcohol.

Colorado: Amendment 64, which passed on November 6, 2012, made it legal for adults 21 and older to legally possess one ounce (28 grams) of marijuana or THC. Commercial sales of marijuana began on January 1, 2014. Marijuana must be purchased at licensed retailers, just like medical marijuana, or can be given as a gift. It is illegal to smoke in public, however, a few “private” cannabis clubs have cropped up where you can buy a single day membership to consume it onsite. Despite legalization, employers can still test for marijuana and base employment decisions on drug test results.

Oregon: Measure 91, which passed on November 4, 2014, legalized the use of recreational marijuana in adults 21 and older, allowing possession of up to eight ounces of “dried” homegrown marijuana and up to four plants. There is no fine or penalty for possession of one ounce or less of marijuana in public, but the use of any marijuana is a class B violation punishable by a maximum fine of $1,000. On October 1, 2015, state-licensed medical dispensaries began selling recreational marijuana with limits of no more than one-quarter ounce per person, per visit, per day.

Washington: Initiative 502, which passed in November 6, 2012, legalized possession of recreational marijuana for adults 21 and older. It is legal to purchase up to one ounce of useable marijuana (the harvested flowers or “bud”), 16 ounces of marijuana-infused edibles in solid form, 72 ounces in liquid form and 7 grams of marijuana concentrates at state-licensed retailers. This measure made it illegal for a motorist to have THC blood levels exceeding 5 ng/mL.

Addiction to Marijuana

Individuals addicted to marijuana and vulnerable populations like teens are subject to significant debate in states considering legalization of recreational marijuana. Marijuana supporters say it’s not as addictive as other drugs such as heroin and cocaine. Proponents also argue it’s safer to buy a regulated product at licensed retailers than potentially contaminated pot on the street. Research suggests as many as 10% of users develop dependence over time. Like other addictive substances, stopping can cause withdrawal symptoms such as irritability and anxiety. It may be too early to draw line-in-the-sand conclusions about the effects of marijuana legalization, but thus far, there are positive signs:

  • In both Colorado and Washington, state surveys have shown no significant change in marijuana use among teens since legalization.
  • In Colorado, marijuana arrests fell by nearly 50% from 2012 to 2014. Marijuana possession charges in Washington fell by 98% between 2012 and 2013.
  • Adult emergency room visits for marijuana use in Colorado increased following legalization, but most of these were tourists.

Many other states had bills that died in committee or adjournment and some are still pending, but the writing is on the wall. It will likely not be long before other states legalize recreational marijuana with strict provisions dictating possession and sales.

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