This year has been an exciting one for proponents of both recreational and medicinal marijuana legalization efforts. Two states began to allow medicinal use, while two more states and Washington, D.C. have started to permit recreational use. Let’s take a look at the latest in these territories and how laws, regulations and rules have been developed around these measures.
While medicinal use has been in place in Oregon for a while now, recreational use was OK’d at the start of July this year after a legalization campaign passed in the 2014 polls. However, the state stumbled a bit on the rollout – while users could begin to use recreationally in July, no framework existed to purchase marijuana legally. At the start of this month, Oregon’s stopgap solution went into effect – recreational users can now purchase from medical dispensaries, with a few limits. Buyers can purchase up to one ounce for personal use, as well as seeds and four nonflowering plants each day. In addition, the sales will not be taxed until Jan. 1, 2016, giving an extra tax holiday for Oregonians who can now legally enjoy their dry herbs.
On the other side of the country, the nation’s capital is currently wrangling with some similar hangups. The district legalized recreational use in February, but still lacks any legal method for buyers to purchase cannabis. This has led to a somewhat grey market of sorts – the law permits people to give up to 1 ounce of marijuana to any other individual, but prohibits exchanging goods, services or money. In D.C., efforts are under way to clear this up and establish a legal taxation and regulation framework, though there is not a current time table for passage. It’s also worth noting that public consumption is prohibited, as is possession on federal property – a significant portion of the district’s land.
Back again to the Left Coast, Alaska also passed legalization last year and started allowing recreational use in late February. However, as with Oregon and D.C., legal regulations for sales are still in the draft stages, limiting the legal access to cannabis for would-be users. The state’s Marijuana Control Board is currently accepting public comment on regulatory proposals, and board has a deadline of Nov. 24 of this year to adopt rules to govern the process of licensing and sales. The body must also begin accepting applications for producers early next year – Feb. 24, 2016 – and expects the first licenses to be awarded three months after that date. Alaskans can still weigh in before the deadline and see the drafted proposals by visiting the MCB’s website.
Both Minnesota and New York cleared marijuana for medicinal use last year, but the North Star State was first to put its legal framework and process into place. Legal medical use started in the state July 1, though it’s a much more stringent series of laws than in other states. For example, patients in Minnesota cannot ingest cannabis by smoking, only through pill doses or through oils or liquids that could be used in a vaporizer pen or other type of weed vaporizer, according to the Star Tribune. In addition, the state requires that eligible doctors register with the state, though that list is not made public, meaning that patients have to consult an eligible doctor who will approve them for treatment. The state’s list of approved conditions is also limited, with only nine eligible diseases or chronic conditions now eligible, though efforts are currently under way to add “intractable pain” to the qualifying list.
Lastly, New York state – one of the pioneers of decriminalization in the ’70s – has also approved medical use, though the program is still developing. The state health department awarded five licenses for growers back in July, with each operating four dispensaries around the state. None have yet opened, though as they are required to be operational within six months of their approval, it’s likely that sales will open by the end of the year. However, as is the case in Minnesota, New Yorkers cannot smoke their medicinal cannabis, but will also need to use a dry herb vaporizer, consume an edible product or take a pill form. The state’s list is also restrictive, though more accommodating than Minnesota’s regulations, and also directs the state’s commissioner of health to rule on five additional conditions – Alzheimer’s disease, muscular dystrophy, dystonia, posttraumatic stress disorder and rheumatoid arthritis – by Jan. 5, 2016.
More states are poised to take up marijuana legislation later this year, with Ohio expected to vote this November on recreational legislation. As legalization efforts for both personal and medical use move forward, the sign is clear – the public’s opinion on marijuana has shifted, and that promises a greener future for many residents across the nation.