"Is Marijuana Legal Here?" Weeding Through the Details of Pot and the Law
Pot is Illegal! (To the Feds)
Before I spark up a discussion of what legal weed means in the different states that have recently passed measures regarding the sticky-icky, I'll get the obvious buzz kill out of the way: from a federal standpoint, marijuana is very much so still illegal. The U.S. government classifies cannabis as a Schedule I controlled substance, meaning the drug is treated the same way as the oh so nefarious heroin, and considers marijuana to be highly addictive and have no medical use. The ramifications of this classification will be discussed later, but it should be noted upfront: "legal" as a descriptor for weed is only a status which has been assigned in some states and territories.
Should marijuana be legal nationally?
Where is Weed Legal?
As of the writing of this post, marijuana is entirely legal for recreational purposes in four states, Oregon, Colorado, Alaska, and Washington, and debatably in the territory of the national capital, Washington, D.C. Additionally, a larger number of states have designated marijuana as legal for medical uses, or have considered the substance to be "decriminalized." Discussions of what these additional categorizations mean will be discussed later, but first the question at hand: what does "legal weed" mean exactly in the areas where it has been designated as such?
Legal Marijuana in Colorado
Since the passing of Colorado 2012's Amendment 64 went in to effect in January of 2014, recreational consumption of Marijuana has been legal in Colorado state. Use is regulated much like alcohol is treated in other states; weed smokers can't smoke in drive, consumption in public is illegal, and use is only permitted by individuals 21 and over. Additionally, adults can grow up to six plants (with half of them allowed to be mature and flowering at once) and are allowed to keep and use the product they grow as long as it is kept in the area where it is grown. Marijuana possession while traveling in the state is capped at one ounce, and gifts to other adults is also allowed and capped at one ounce. In one area of Colorado, use and possession of marijuana remains entirely illegal: Denver International Airport. In general visitors are allowed to buy and use marijuana while they are in the state, but the airport has been designated a "no weed zone" to make it harder for marijuana to be taken outside of Colorado by tourists and visitors.
Legal Marijuana in Washington State
Following the passage of state initiative 502 in 2012, weed became recreationaly legal in Washington state in July of 2014. On the surface, Washington's rules governing marijuana possession and consumption are very similar to Colorado's: individuals over 21 may possess up to one ounce, can not smoke while driving or operate a vehicle under the influence, and can not consume marijuana in a public place. However, there are some important differences in the two laws. In Washington state, an individual must possess a specific license to cultivate marijuana plants, even for their own use. Additionally, stricter state laws governing who is able to sell marijuana legally and where mean it can be hard to buy marijuana legally in Washington, due to lack of supply. Overall, the market in Washington is still developing, and it may remain hard to legally purchase and consume marijuana in Washington for some time.
Legal Marijuana in Oregon
With the success of Oregon's measure 91, recreational marijuana use and possession will be legal in the state as of July 1st, 2015. In Oregon, users again can not consume marijuana in public or operate a vehicle while under the influencem and must be 21 years of age to participate in the fun. The state has a different cap than Colorado on the number of plants an individual can cultivate and the total amount of marijuana legal users can possess: Oregon will allow those who are interested to grow four plants for their personal use, and possess up to 8 ounces at a time. The state is still working out a regulatory framework for legal distribution, but it looks like there will be strict measures in place regarding where and how weed will be sold, meaning the market may take a while to puck up.
Legal Marijuana in Alaska
As of November 2014's Measure 2, recreational marijuana use in Alaska has been legalized, thanks in part to the efforts of the infamous "F*** it, I quit" organizer Charlo Greene (if you haven't, see the video below!) The exact date of legalization is yet to be determined, as the Measure has yet to be certified by state bureaucrats. In Alaska, individuals 21 and older will be allowed to possess up to one ounce of marijuana and cultivate up to six plants (though only half can be flowering at once). Since six plants are likely to produce more than one ounce of weed, individuals are allowed to keep all of the weed they harvest from up to six plants, as long as it is kept in the house or area where it is grown. Adults are allowed to gift up to an ounce or up to six immature plants to another adult 21 and over, as long as no money is involved in the exchange. Consumption is not allowed in public or while operating a vehicle, as has become standard in all legalization efforts.
(Note, information above is summarized from the Marijuana Policy Project. Visit www.mpp.org for additional information and the full text of measures and initiatives.)
"F*** it, I quit!" Thanks to Charlo and others for their efforts!
Is Marijuana Legal in Washington, D.C.?
In November of 2014, a measure was passed that tentatively legalizes Marijuana in the nation's capitol, the District of Columbia. Under the measure, individuals would be able to possess up to two ounces of weed and cultivate up to 6 plants, again with only three flowering at a time. However, whether the measure will be implemented is highly contentious. Washington, D.C. being the nation's capital and not a sovereign state, the measure will have to be explicitly approved by congress, which may prove controversial. The issue will resolved soon, but whatever the outcome, recreational marijuana use in D.C. is sure to cause controversy.
Summary: Where is Marijuana Legal?
While the federal government's classification of marijuana as a drug with no medical uses is still the law of the land on a national level, many states have determined that marijuana can serve a medical use for their citizens. Cannabis has been especially widely used to alleviate symptoms of many diseases, most notably cancer and AIDS, and has been seen as effective in addressing nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, and insomnia. States that permit the use of marijuana for medical purposes typically require a doctor's recommendation for the product, and highly regulate the places and ways in which medical marijuana can be purchased and consumed. The use of marijuana for medical purposes remains highly contentious, and continued research into the issue is currently under way.
What Does "Decriminalized Marijuana" Mean?
In addition to states that have legalized marijuana for medical or recreational use, a large number of states have "decriminalized" the substance. In areas where weed is decriminalized, those who are found to be in possession of a small amount of pot typically will not face jail time, but instead are likely to pay a small fine. However, areas with decriminalized marijuana typically still have strict prohibitions on the sale of cannabis or the possession of large quantities. "Decriminalization" should not be seen as full legalization; states with decriminalized marijuana still consider the substance illegal and possession or use of marijuana will be addressed by the criminal system, despite the slight misnomer of "decriminalization."
So...Should I Smoke?
Whether or not a person uses marijuana is entirely a personal choice. With the recreational use of weed being legalized in many states, more and more individuals may be thinking that it is time to bust out the bong or roll up a 'doobie,' but there are some things that need to be remembered if you choose to consume marijuana, even if it is legal in your state. First, the fact that the federal government considers marijuana to be illegal has some big implications for those that choose to light up. Federal law enforcement officers are still bound to treat marijuana users as highly criminal, so don't blow any smoke rings in an FBI officer's face if you value your freedom. Additionally, federal properties and programs are still bound by federal law to enforce laws prohibiting weed. That means that federally funded universities will still be cracking down on student tokers, even if they are located in states where marijuana is legal. Additionally, federal jobs and corporations that are nation in scope will likely still be drug testing employees in states where weed has been legalized, so if you like your job or hope to get a new one, be very careful about reaching for the green stuff. Overall, whether or not you choose to use marijuana IS a personal choice, but be sure that you know the laws in your area pertaining to weed's use, and consider your options accordingly.