Marijuana Mapping: Where is it Legal to Fire Up?
“Let me be clear,” stated Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly at the end of April, “[Marijuana] is a potentially dangerous gateway drug that frequently leads to the use of harder drugs.” Secretary Kelly made it apparent that, as a member of the Trump Administration, he would fight hard to keep marijuana an illegal drug.
While to many, this drug is still regarded as taboo, as dangerous, and as a “gateway” drug – meaning that its use leads to the use of other, more destructive substances – others believe cannabis to be rather harmless, and feel that it is demonized by the public on an unsound basis.
The latter opinion appears to have prevailed, as many states have legalized the ownership, growth and/or consumption of marijuana for medical or recreational purposes. In fact, in 2016, the North American marijuana market reported a sales revenue of $6.7 billion, according to Arcview Market Research, the top-cited research database on legal marijuana.
But which states actually implement these looser policies, and to what extent? There is a lot of confusion out there, as one person’s legal after-dinner toke may be another person’s criminal act. And how are state laws affected by Federal policies?
Under Federal law the use, possession, sale, cultivation, and transportation of cannabis is still illegal. Because of the “Controlled Substances Act,” the Federal government of the United States classifies marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance and thus regulates marijuana like any other controlled substance such as cocaine. This is due to its potential for abuse and its perceived lack of medical value. This means that due to its illegal status, the Federal government prohibits citizens to consume it – and forbids researchers even to conduct studies on the drug.
Individual states, however, do have the authority to pass laws that decriminalize cannabis for recreational or medical use, provided that a system for cannabis regulation is in place. However, this conflict between state and Federal law blurs the line between what exactly is and what is not illegal in regards to marijuana. This tension between state and Federal law will most likely have to be solved formally in the future, possibly through an adjudication by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Marijuana, as of 2017, is legal in eight states and in Washington, D.C. The regulation on marijuana, however, varies from state to state. For example, in different states, the amount of marijuana one can have on his or her person, the places where someone can purchase marijuana, and the places where someone can use marijuana, all differ vastly.
In Alaska, it is legal for residents over twenty-one years of age to use, own, and transport marijuana. However, because of Federal laws, it is illegal for Alaskans to use marijuana on public property or in national forests and parks, due to Federal law. Users may cultivate up to six plants in a secure, private location.
In 1996, California became the first state to legalize cannabis for medical use. In 2016, however, the law was expanded so that those without prescriptions could also use and transport marijuana. This made the drug legal for recreational use. While there currently are no places legally to purchase cannabis, the state will begin to issue licenses to marijuana dispensaries that allow the sale of non-medical weed. The consumption of marijuana in California is still illegal in public places, while one is driving, and on school grounds.
In the state of Colorado, there are actually now more marijuana dispensaries than there are Starbuck’s and McDonald’s locations combined. Both residents and tourists are now legally allowed to purchase up to an ounce of cannabis. Users can cultivate up to six marijuana plants, without penalty.
Cannabis possession of up to 2.5 ounces is legal in Maine, following the enactment of IB 2015, c. 5 on November 8th, 2016, otherwise known as Maine’s Marijuana Legalization Act. However, stores selling cannabis in Maine are not expected to open until 2018.
State laws in Massachusetts that allow residents over twenty-one years of age to carry, consume and grow marijuana went into effect on December 15th, 2016. A bill signed by Governor Charlie Baker, however, pushed the opening of retail stores was from early 2018 to mid-2018. This timing is an effort to properly develop a marijuana industry within the state, according to Lizzy Guyton, a spokesperson for Governor Baker.
On January 1st, 2017, Nevada legalized recreational marijuana. As in many other states, purchase at dispensaries and possession of cannabis is legal for those over twenty-one, in quantities up to one ounce. Users are permitted to smoke the weed only in their private residences, and must live at least twenty-five miles away from the nearest marijuana dispensaryin order to be able to grow the plant for themselves.
In the state of Oregon, those over twenty-one years of age have the authority to purchase, own and use marijuana recreationally. Retailers with an OLCC (Oregon Liquor Control Commission) license are permitted to sell the substance to both medical and recreational users. Legal citizens may grow their own marijuana, and also send it, or receive it, as a gift. As in other states, one may only use recreational marijuana on private property; Oregon prohibits people from driving under the influence of marijuana and from transporting marijuana either into or out of the state of Oregon.
The state of Washington has turned a huge profit on the sale of marijuana through dispensaries. Since cannabis was legalized in 2014, the state has allegedly sold over $1 billion worth of non-medical marijuana, according to a report from Seattle PI. In order to obtain a grower’s license, one must be a medical marijuana patient. Patients must receive a written recommendations from physicians, register with the state, and acquire a registry identification card, in order to cultivate marijuana plants and properly manage the dosage.
Last, but not least, and to the surprise of many, marijuana is legal in the United States’ capitol, Washington D. C. Medical marijuana has been legal in D.C. for almost twenty years, while its recreational use was legalized in 2014 for adults of twenty-one years of age and older. Individuals are allowed, under D.C. laws, to own up to two ounces of cannabis for personal use,and to transfer one ounce of the substance to another person of twenty-one years of age — albeit not in exchange for money. As in many other states such as New York, the sale and use of drug paraphernalia is permitted.
It is evident that though legislation varies from state to state in minor ways, the distribution of marijuana in the United States is gaining more and more momentum.
Which state do you think will be the next to legalize the drug?