Laws to legalize pot for recreational use continue to grow

(BPT) – Americans have come a long way in their acceptance of marijuana. Long gone are the days of “Reefer Madness,” the infamous 1936 movie that depicted a couple falling into addiction and ultimately – madness. Today, 58 percent of Americans favor the legalizing of pot for recreational use, according to an October 2013 Gallup poll.

Fueling the momentum to legalize marijuana for recreational use are the recent new laws in Colorado and Washington, which legalized recreational marijuana use in those states.

Including Colorado and Washington, 13 states have proposed or enacted legislation on the recreational use of marijuana, according to WestlawNext, the nation’s leading online legal research service. In addition, 24 states have legalized medical marijuana, which is widely accepted for treating a range of diseases, such as epilepsy, and to reduce the side effects of other medical treatments, such as chemotherapy.

Michael Carlson, a reference attorney with Thomson Reuters, notes that proposing a law to legalize pot for recreational use isn’t as simple as it might sound.

“Legislators have to contend with many facets of this issue, ranging from taxation to regulating who can grow marijuana, how it will be harvested and processed, and how marijuana can be legally distributed and sold,” said Carlson.

A key step toward acceptance of recreational marijuana use is the decriminalization of persons caught in possession of marijuana. Since 1973, 15 states have enacted legislation that decriminalizes possession of small amounts of marijuana according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). On July 1, 2013, Vermont became the most recent state to decriminalize marijuana, and in late August, the U.S. Department of Justice, in a memorandum to all United States Attorneys, said it would not challenge state laws on recreational marijuana in Colorado and Washington based on the expectation that those states will “implement strong and effective regulatory and enforcement systems,” which includes keeping marijuana from minors and out of the hands of gangs.

If the new laws in Colorado and the state of Washington serve as a precedent as to how other states may approach the legalization of marijuana, here’s what U.S. residents can expect, according to WestlawNext:

* The first recreational marijuana retailers will open on Jan. 1, 2014, in Colorado. A specific date has not been set in Washington. The number of retailers in Washington will be capped at 344, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

* Twenty-one is the recommended age for recreational marijuana use.

* In Washington, adults, 21 years of age and older can purchase, in a single transaction, one ounce of usable marijuana, 16 ounces of marijuana-infused product in solid form, and 72 ounces of marijuana-infused product in liquid form.

* In Colorado, adults, 21 or older, can possess up to one ounce of marijuana and six marijuana plants. You do not have to be a resident of Colorado or Washington to purchase and use marijuana while visiting those states. It will be illegal to grow your own pot in Washington.

* Open and public smoking of marijuana in Colorado will still be illegal, as it will be in Washington.

* An adult, 21 years or older, can legally give up to one ounce of marijuana to another adult, 21 years or older in Colorado. In Washington, that will be illegal.

* Both states will impose taxes on the production of marijuana at three stages: when it is sold by the grower to the processor, the processor to the retailer, and the retailer to the consumer. Washington is planning to impose a tax of 25 percent, and Colorado is looking at a 15 percent excise tax and 10 percent sales tax.

* Both states are aiming at a pre-tax price of $12 a gram to ensure that marijuana is competitive with what can be purchased illegally from a non-regulated dealer on the street, according to a Time magazine report.

* Processors and retailers will be required to test and label the potency of the marijuana products to be offered through retail outlets, detailing the concentration of active compounds, such as THC.

* Both states will have strict laws about advertising and packaging in order to limit exposure to minors.

“The tipping point to end the prohibition on marijuana may be coming sooner than most realize,” said Sam Kamin, Thomson Reuters author and professor at the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law. “The groups that have been working for years to legalize marijuana will be taking the issue to more and more states in 2014 and beyond.”

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