New Year, New Pot Rules


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As marijuana legalization makes its way across the country, the new year heralds new legislation in several more states.

The big news comes from California; the first state to go medical back in 1996 now also has legal recreational marijuana, making it the eighth state with fully legal weed in addition to Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Washington DC, Nevada, Alaska, and Massachusetts.

California’s debut in the recreational market is not without issues. Only 90 dispensaries have their licenses and major
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centers like Los Angeles are starting the year without recreational dispensaries. Furthermore, some people say the tax on rec is too high which won’t discourage buying on the black market. There are some concerns about supply too, as the wildfires may have affected outdoor crops. Nonetheless, it is likely California will work through their issues quickly as have other legal marijuana states.

Several other states have recreational use legislation pending for this year. Vermont tops this list and technically, they voted to pass recreational marijuana last year, and were the first state to do so through legislature and not a citizen-sponsored ballot initiative. At that point, the governor vetoed the bill for further studies on the public health implications, but it is expected to be proposed again early this year, and the governor has expressed he would be comfortable approving such a measure.

In New Jersey, governor-elect Phil Murphy has promised legal recreational marijuana within his first 100 days, as long as legislature sends him a bill to sign. And Michigan, which has struggled with the rules around its medical program, may finally see the citizen led initiative to legalize recreationally get voted on this year.

Delaware has been studying recreational marijuana and its impact and expects a task force report in February 2018. They do not permit citizen led initiatives, so the actions on legalization will originate in the House. Rhode Island is also poised to release their study on the recreational market later this month, which was designed in part to review the effects of neighboring states having legal medical and recreational marijuana. They expect to decriminalize small amounts this spring, before dispensaries open in neighboring Massachusetts, but there is no timeline on when or if their own legislators will make it legal. Connecticut has also considered full legalization, with cities like Hartford approving a resolution to make pot legal in an effort to spur their state lawmakers. Lastly, Ohio citizens are renewing their failed 2015 effort to get a proposal on the ballot this year.

On the medical front, some forms of legal use may be making their way to the south. Oklahomans will get to vote on medical marijuana in either the June primary or November election, depending on their governor. In Kentucky, the Secretary of State, Alison Grimes, is pushing to legalize medical marijuana in an effort to support veterans and patients with severe illnesses.
Further north, South Dakota, Utah, and Missouri all have ballot initiatives pending that, if approved, will allow votes on medical marijuana in their November elections.

There are now more states with some form of legal marijuana permitted than not and there are significant changes across the continent too.

In Mexico, pot is not quite legal yet, but cannabis based products are, including edibles, drinks and lipsticks. There is still opposition to decriminalized or legalized recreational use and these products are regulated to have a low amount of THC. But these moves open the door for further legislation in the future.

Lastly, our neighbors to the north, Canada, have been actively moving the Cannabis Act through parliament for a targeted approval date of July 2018. Since proposed, there have been major efforts to investigate and develop a legalization plan so that a system of some kind will be ready to launch. In the meantime, Canada has medical marijuana. In fact, it was the first country anywhere to make it legal and regulate prescribed use starting in 2001 and has been improving its medical regulation since then. It also has dispensaries which operate in a precarious gray area, sometimes getting shut down, sometimes ignored. Businesses there are looking forward to clearer guidance on licensing and sales.

Legal marijuana advocates have good reasons to believe that 2018 will be a major tipping point year in the effort for nationwide legalization.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Colin McCallin
As a former District Attorney, Colin has over 6 years of litigation experience at the 18th Judicial District Attorney’s Office. Since that time he has exclusively focused on criminal defense. Colin is a member of the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar as well as the National College of DUI Defense. Colin has also provided expert legal analysis for 9News in Denver.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

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