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2016 Updates On Marijuana Legalization in the US

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Medical marijuana is considered to be a miracle herb since the ancient times, but still, not many people with chronic conditions are using it. This is because there is still a lot confusion and misinformation regarding marijuana legalization and decriminalization. Legalization and decriminalization are two different things, and understanding these two is essential so that you will know how to act when you travel to different states and you will accidentally get arrested or ticketed for marijuana possession.

Majority of Americans live in states with medical marijuana laws, decriminalization laws or laws for marijuana legalization and regulation. There were some states which have improved their marijuana policies recently, in recognition to the medical marijuana’s potential as a therapeutic option for long-term debilitating diseases.

Still, there are more than a dozen states that currently recognize the therapeutic functions of medical marijuana but do not meet marijuana policy programs’ definition of a “medical marijuana state.” In these states, there are no operational laws and these laws may not be implemented in the coming years. If ever there are laws, they may only include patients who use certain types of marijuana products with very low THC levels.

The US Medical Marijuana Policy Program defines a state as having an effective medical marijuana law if this law meets the following four criteria:

  1. Patients are provided protection from criminal convictions for the medical use and possession of marijuana
  2. There is some realistic means of patients obtaining in-state access to marijuana that does not rely on federal cooperation, typically through home cultivation or private, state-regulated dispensaries
  3. The law allows for a variety of strains of marijuana, or extracts of marijuana, including both strains with higher and lower amounts of THC
  4. The law allows patients to either smoke or vaporize marijuana or marijuana oils, or both.

Medical Marijuana Legalization
Many states have already recognized the importance of medical marijuana as a therapeutic option for various long term and debilitating illnesses. California has legalized medical marijuana since 1996. There are limits as to how much marijuana and marijuana plants that can be owned and used. In Connecticut and Massachusetts, patients typically have a 30-day or 60-day supply limit.

Washington also has legalized medical marijuana since 1998 and later on it legalized recreational marijuana.

The US Medical Marijuana Policy Program points out the compassionate reason behind medical marijuana legalization and its limits. It said that “Qualifying patients with terminal or debilitating medical conditions who, in the judgment of their health care professionals, may benefit from the medical use of cannabis, shall not be arrested, prosecuted, or subject to other criminal sanctions or civil consequences under state law based solely on their medical use of cannabis, notwithstanding any other provision of law.”

Laws Concerning Recreational Marijuana
It became known that voters in Colorado and Washington have legalized marijuana in November 2012. Both states only permit personal recreational use of marijuana by adults 21 or older. Colorado has legalized retail marijuana shops since January 1, 2014. Washington started issuing licenses to these marijuana shops in July 2014. Other states have since followed this year, including California and Massachusetts (both in 2016).

Recreational marijuana legalization means that you cannot be arrested, convicted or ticketed for using marijuana as long as you follow the states as to the legal age of using marijuana, the place and the amount of consumption. However, one can still get arrested for selling or trafficking marijuana if the state rules are not being followed with regards to marijuana’s licensure and taxation. Soon other states will follow suit in having laws and policies that will control the use and selling of marijuana so that people can buy it for their own personal use from a legal source.

Decriminalization Laws
The US Medical Marijuana Policy Program defines a state as having a “decriminalization” law if the state has enacted a law that imposes penalties other than jail time for possession of marijuana, at a minimum, for a first offense.

Clearly, this is different from legalization. Decriminalization simply means that a state repealed or amended its laws to make certain acts criminal, but no longer subject to prosecution. Thus, if you are in a state with a marijuana decriminalization, this means that if you are caught with small amounts of marijuana for personal consumption, you won’t get prosecuted and you won’t receive a criminal record or a jail sentence. It’s just like a minor traffic violation. Examples of these states include Alaska, California, New York, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oregon, and much of the Northeast. However, if you possess larger quantities of marijuana or if you sell it, you can still have significant potential penalties.

Conflict between Federal and State Laws
Presently, the US federal law does not allow the sale and use of marijuana because it is considered illegal under the Controlled Substance Act. In some states where marijuana has been legalized for recreational purposes, the state law sometimes goes in conflict with the federal law. This may be resolved later on probably by a decision from the Supreme Court.

Michigan Medical Marijuana Law
The Michigan Medical Marijuana Law was signed in 2008 and recognizes the need of therapeutic effects of marijuana on long-term debilitating conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, cachexia or wasting syndrome, cancer, chronic pain, Crohn’s disease, glaucoma, HIV or AIDS, Hepatitis C, nail patella, nausea, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), seizures and severe and persistent muscle spasms. A patient can possess two and one-half ounces of usable marijuana for his or her medical condition.

A patient can cultivate medical marijuana at home, however, this should not exceed more than 12 marijuana plants which should be kept in an enclosed, locked facility. Or, outdoor plants should not be “visible to the unaided eye from an adjacent property when viewed by an individual at ground level or from a permanent structure” and must be “grown within a stationary structure that is enclosed on all sides, except the base, by chain-link fencing, wooden slats, or a similar material that prevents access by the general public and that is anchored, attached or affixed to the ground, located on land that is owned, leased, or rented” by the registered grower and restricted to that grower’s access.

State licensed dispensaries are allowed in Michigan. Primary caregivers who have agreed to assist with a patient’s medical use of marijuana. The caregiver must be 21 years of age or older. The caregiver can never have been convicted of a felony involving illegal drugs, or must not have been convicted of any felony within the last ten years, or any violent felony ever. Each patient can only have one primary caregiver. The primary caregiver may assist no more than 5 qualifying patients with their medical use of marijuana. State-qualified caregivers must not have been convicted of any felony within the last ten years, or any violent felony ever.

Currently, in Michigan, there are around 182,000 registered medical marijuana patients. For more information on this, one may keep in touch with the Michigan Medical Marihuana Program (MMMP) at Michigan.gov/mmp and Michigan Medical Marijuana Association athttp://michiganmedicalmarijuana.org/.

2016 Marijuana Law Reform
The year 2016 is a remarkable year for marijuana law reform. This is because adult use measures have been approved in four states: California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada. Also, medical marijuana initiatives are being passed in four more states: Arkansas, Florida, Montana and North Dakota. Marijuana legalization is now within our reach!

California
In California, Proposition 64 (The Adult Use Marijuana Act) “allows adults who are not participating in the state’s medical cannabis program to legally grow (up to six plants, including all of the harvest from those plants) and to possess personal use quantities of cannabis (up to one ounce of flower and/or up to eight grams of concentrates) while also licensing commercial cannabis production and retail sales. (Medical cannabis patients are not subject to these limits)”.

This proposition means that localities cannot take action against adults who possess and cultivate cannabis for non-commercial purposes. Several other marijuana-related activities not legalized by the measure are reduced from felonies to misdemeanors. The law also provides for resentencing consideration for those found guilty of prior marijuana convictions. The revised marijuana penalties take effect on November 9, 2016. Retail sales of marijuana by state-licensed establishments are scheduled to begin under the law on January 1, 2018. On site consumption is permitted under the law in establishments licensed for such activity.

Maine
In Maine the Marijuana Legalization Act “permits adults who are not participating in the state’s medical cannabis program to legally grow (up to six plants, including all of the harvest from those plants, and/or up to 12 immature plants) and to possess personal use quantities of cannabis (up to two and one-half ounces of herbal cannabis) while also licensing commercial cannabis production and retail sales.”

This law imposes a 10 percent tax on commercial marijuana sales. Under the law, localities have the authority to regulate, limit, or prohibit the operation of marijuana businesses. On site consumption is permitted under the law in establishments licensed for such activity.

Massachusetts
Massachusetts aims to regulate marijuana like alcohol. The law “permits adults who are not participating in the state’s medical cannabis program to legally grow (up to six plants, including all of the harvest from those plants) and to possess personal use quantities of cannabis (up to one ounce and/or up to 5 grams of concentrate; in addition, adults may legally possess up to ten ounces of marijuana flower in their home) while also licensing commercial cannabis production and retail sales.”

Nevada
Nevada, like Massachusetts, “permits adults who are not participating in the state’s medical cannabis program to legally grow (up to six plants, including all of the harvest from those plants) and to possess personal use quantities of cannabis (up to one ounce of flower and/or up to 3.5 grams of concentrates) while also licensing commercial cannabis production and retail sales. (Home cultivation is not permitted if one’s residence is within 25 miles of an operating marijuana retailer.)

Arkansas
The Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act has a current amendment, the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment, which permits qualified patients who possess a physician’s recommendation to legally possess and obtain medical cannabis provided by state licensed dispensaries. The home cultivation of cannabis is not permitted under the law. Under the law, regulators will license up to 40 dispensary providers and up to eight marijuana cultivators.

Florida
In Florida, the current amendment says that qualified patients who possess a physician’s recommendation may legally possess and obtain medical cannabis provided by state licensed dispensaries. Under the law, a “debilitating medical condition” for which marijuana may be recommended includes is defined as “cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, positive status for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, or other debilitating medical conditions of the same kind or class as or comparable to those enumerated, and for which a physician believes that the medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh the potential health risks for a patient.”
The home cultivation of cannabis is not permitted under the law.

Montana
The current Montana Medical Marijuana Initiative’s Yes On I-182 expands the state’s medical marijuana laws. It permits licensed medical marijuana providers to serve more than three patients at one time and allows for providers to hire employees to cultivate, dispense, and transport medical marijuana. I-182 repeals the requirement that physicians who provide certifications for 25 or more patients annually be referred to the board of medical examiners. It removes the authority of law enforcement to conduct unannounced inspections of medical marijuana facilities, and requires annual inspections by the state.

North Dakota
The Measure 5 of the North Dakota Compassionate Care Act “permits qualified patients who possess a physician’s recommendation may legally possess and obtain medical cannabis provided by state licensed dispensaries. Those who reside 40 miles or more away from an operating medical marijuana dispensary are permitted to grow limited quantities of marijuana (up to eight flowering plants) at home.”

In summary, more and more states are recognizing the beneficial effects of marijuana. Let us spread the good news that medical marijuana brings on other people so that more diseases will get cured with nature’s wonderful healing hand!

References:
Drug Policy Alliance. Marijuana Wins Big, As Dark Struggles Loom. Accessed November 20, 2016 at http://www.drugpolicy.org/blog/marijuana-wins-big-dark-struggles-loom

Marijuana Policy Project. Types of Marijuana Policy Reform Laws. Accessed November 20, 2016 at https://www.mpp.org/types-of-marijuana-policy-reform-laws/

National Conference of State Legislatures. State Medical Marijuana Laws. Accessed November 20, 2016 at http://www.ncsl.org/research/health/state-medical-marijuana-laws.aspx

NORML and the NORML Foundation. Election 2016 – Marijuana Ballot Results. Accessed November 20, 2016 at http://norml.org/election-2016