Commencing in 1996, 20 states and Washington, D.C., with Maryland being the most recent, have passed and enacted legislation allowing the consumption of marijuana only for a variety of medicinal purposes. Though there are state laws in place that allow for such use, using marijuana is still a federal offense. According to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, many of the state medical marijuana laws “originated in order to create a legal defense to state criminal possession laws or to remove state criminal penalties for purported medical use of marijuana.” Since the passing of state laws surrounding medical marijuana use, authorization for state-based production and distribution of marijuana for medical purposes has increased tremendously as well.
Aside from state allowed medical uses for marijuana, states such as Colorado and Washington State passed initiatives legalizing recreational marijuana use for adults 21 years of age and older in 2012. This legalization of recreational use of marijuana has drawn both criticism and praise from lawmakers and citizens alike. Just recently, Attorney General Eric Holder expressed his “cautious optimism” surrounding the legalization efforts in Colorado and Washington, while others, such as Congress, continue to stress that they have determined marijuana to be “a dangerous drug”. As the Department of Justice is committed to enforcing the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) consistent with the findings of Congress, it is important that you are aware of not only your state laws when it comes to medicinal and recreational use of marijuana, but also those laws, rules, regulations and policies of your employer, even if recreational use is legal in your state.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?
As state laws vary vastly in the determination of legal and illegal use of marijuana, they all consider several factors when debating whether or not to legalize its use. These factors include safety, efficacy and legality of current and potential laws that have been proposed. In states where recreational and/or medical use is allowed, zones and enforcement ordinances are being created and taken into effect to prevent marijuana dispensaries from operating in their communities. Additionally, there are strict registration rules for patients to receive the benefits of medical marijuana in an effort to protect against illegal consumption and distribution. Regulation of marijuana for medical use may also exist and be enforced at the county and city levels as well.
On the federal level, the White House Administration “steadfastly opposes legalization of marijuana and other drugs because legalization would increase the availability and use of illicit drugs, and pose significant health and safety risks to all Americans, particularly young people.”
HOW DOES THIS AFFECT YOU?
It is illegal to consume or distribute marijuana on a federal level. If you reside in one of the 20 states or Washington, D.C. which allows consumption for medical purposes, you may legally consume marijuana if you are registered as a patient pursuant to your state laws. If you live in Colorado and Washington State, you may consume marijuana legally either for medical purposes and/or recreational purposes. There are even mobile apps available, such as Weedmaps which assists in locating legal dispensaries of marijuana.
Again, as illegal consumption and distribution is still a crime on the federal level and in most states, it would behoove you to not partake if your intent is to not break the law.
For more information on the state laws surrounding legal and illegal use of marijuana, please visit The National Conference of State Legislatures website.
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Rashida Maples, Esq. is Founder and Managing Partner of J. Maples & Associates (www.jmaplesandassociates.com). She has practiced Entertainment, Real Estate and Small Business Law for 9 years, handling both transactional and litigation matters. Her clients include R&B Artists Bilal and Olivia, NFL Superstar Ray Lewis, Fashion Powerhouse Harlem’s Fashion Row and Hirschfeld Properties, LLC.