If a friend with weed is a friend indeed, then a lot of people will be buddying up to Colorado, Washington State and Alaska. As though transforming into the Amsterdams of the United States, all of these states are or will be approving marijuana for recreational use. Now, no one has to say they didn’t inhale anymore.
On Jan. 1, 2014, Colorado greenlighted the sale of recreational marijuana to anyone age 21 or older. It is the first state to permit such transactions. Residents of Colorado can legally purchase an ounce of cannabis – which can cost a hefty $200 or more – while out-of-staters are limited to buying a quarter ounce. Ganja smokers can share their ounce of pot with a friend, as long as there is no exchange of money. Within the new relaxed regulations, you’re permitted to grow up to six plants at home, as long as they’re in a locked, enclosed area.
Customers, however, can’t smoke their purchase in public, at the pot shops or in any other locations governed by Denver’s Clear Indoor Air Act. And individual counties and communities can still prohibit recreational reefer stores, which numerous towns, including Colorado Springs and Greeley, have done.
This new landmark law – now part of the Colorado constitution after approval by 55 percent of voters – is an epic breakthrough for Colorado. It’s the first state in the United States to throw open the doors to recreational marijuana stores, and the first place in the entire world where pot will have regulations imposed upon it from seed to final sale. According to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), pot is the third most popular recreational drug in the nation, hot on the heels of alcohol and tobacco.
The Centennial State’s 37 pot dispensaries, including 18 in Denver, alone, weren’t just blowing smoke – during the first week of sales they collectively scored $5 million. Colorado has projected that it will amass $600 million annually in joint wholesale and retail sales. Its legalization will also draw revenues from an entirely new type of tourist. The state additionally anticipates gathering nearly $70 million in tax revenues generated from this year’s pot sales alone. Wholesale sales taxed at 15 percent will aid school construction, while the retail tax of 10 percent will finance industry regulation. The state stands to profit even more when approximately 160 retailers still navigating the lengthy licensing process become street legal.
According to Julie Postlethwait, a spokesperson for the Marijuana Enforcement Division, recreational marijuana shops can only open after being granted both a local and a state license. “It will be an interesting time in Colorado in the next few months,” she said. “We’ll have things shake out and settle. That will give us an opportunity to study what the face of the two segments of the marijuana industry will look like.”
Was recreational weed legalized because it’s less hazardous than alcohol or tobacco? Maybe. Was its recreational use given the thumbs up because legalization would annually spare taxpayers $10 billion on enforcing its prohibition? Maybe. Was its recreational purchase permitted because public treasuries will receive a tax windfall? Probably.
Retail marijuana will be slapped with a 25 percent state tax, in addition to Colorado’s existing 2.9 percent state sales tax. This will distinguish recreational weed as one of the most heavily taxed consumer items in the state – and some communities are heaping even more taxes onto the sale of ganja. Buyers of medicinal marijuana, however, will be exempt from the additional taxes, but will still require a doctor’s referral. These medical facilities will be separate from the retailers of recreational pot.
Driving under the influence will also garner a ticket for a user whose blood is above 5 nanograms of THC, marijuana’s active ingredient – and this level could still be the same or higher in some users three or more hours after partaking in pot. NORML additionally cautions, “Do recognize that the effects of alcohol and marijuana together may be more than the sum of their parts.”
Depending on the person, impairment could present a tricky gray area for law enforcement officials. According to a Dec., 2013 “Slate” article by University of Denver Law Professor Sam Kamin and writer Joel Warner, “Is Colorado’s marijuana DUI rule flawless? Far from it. But as the state’s policy makers have come to realize, the world’s first legal pot rules aren’t going to be perfect.”
States authorizing the use of medical – and now recreational – marijuana have always butted heads with the federal government. In August, 2013, however, the U.S. Justice Department won’t oppose Colorado or any other states whose laws legalize recreational marijuana and will instead concentrate on serious drug trafficking and preventing children from using the drug.
Washington has the distinction of being one of the first states to legalize recreational marijuana in 2012. Yet it still has to jump through major hoops before sales can begin, such as setting up a licensing system for ganja growers and sellers, and the necessity of determining a new limit of marijuana in the bloodstream that constitutes safe or unsafe driving.
Washington’s Initiative 502 (I-502) decriminalizes recreational pot use. Similar to the state’s liquor controls, the new law permits the implementation of a licensed, regulated weed production and distribution structure. On Dec. 1, 2013, businesses were permitted to begin applying for licenses. In the late spring or early summer of 2014, pot retail stores will open to the public. These businesses will be solely dedicated to the sale of marijuana and marijuana products, and smoking on the premises will not be permitted.
After I-502 is fully in place, possession of pot must be by individuals age 21 or older and remain within specific parameters. One ounce of marijuana is legal, as is 16 ounces of solid marijuana-infused products (such as brownies, candy or sodas), 72 ounces of liquid marijuana-infused products (such as vaporizers, also called vape pens or vapor inhalers), and it’s appropriate to possess pot-related paraphernalia.
However, there will be several don’ts for your doobies. They can’t be used in view of the general public, transported to another state, grown or sold without a state license, or used while driving. Additionally, you can’t indulge in cannabis if you’re younger than 21, and you can’t be in possession of quantities surpassing the legal limit. Each police jurisdiction may be handling marijuana possession differently, so do some quick Google research before you proceed.
There are still many details that Washington has to hash out, among them whether or not pot smoking will be acceptable in bars and private clubs.
Alaska is closing in on becoming the third state in the United States to legalize marijuana for recreational use, following hot on the heels of Colorado and Washington.
As public support swells, the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana, an Alaska citizens’ group, submitted over 45,000 signatures to Alaska election officials. In order to qualify for the August state ballot, only 30,000 verified signatures were required.
According to Tim Hinterberger, a sponsor of the initiative, “The proposed initiative will take marijuana sales out of the underground market and put them in legitimate, taxpaying businesses. Replacing marijuana prohibition with a system of taxation and sensible regulation will bolster Alaska’s economy by creating jobs and generating revenue for the state.”
Alaska’s proposal shares similarities with a landmark proposal passed in Colorado legalizing the growing, buying and use of pot by adults age 21 and over, according to CNN affiliate KTUU. Current Alaska law only permits those with a medical marijuana prescription to legally grow up to six plants, or possess a single ounce.
Hinterberger emphasized that not only will the proposal pave the way for recreational use, but it will offer more options for medical pot users with limited access to the substance.
Besides Colorado and Washington, 18 additional states and the District of Columbia permit some degree of legal marijuana usage, chiefly for medical purposes.
According to Mason Tvert of the Marijuana Policy Project, pro-recreational weed initiatives are anticipated in Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana and Nevada by 2016.
Anti-marijuana laws, you’re about to go up in smoke.