Numerous Examples to Follow When Legalizing Marijuana

Nine States Have Already Crossed That Line
Mar 21, 2018

Gov. Phil Murphy is not only bullish in regard to the legalization of recreational pot in New Jersey. He’s also very optimistic regarding the timeline of legalization.

In his initial budget address to the New Jersey Legislature last week, the new governor said the main reason he wanted to make the possession and sale of recreational marijuana legal was to level the scales of justice for minorities.

“We must recommit to opening the doors to economic opportunity for the thousands of young men and women, especially young men and women of color, jailed for nonviolent, drug-related offenses. Our current system has failed them, and puts a mark on them that they will carry for their entire lives, preventing them from furthering their educations or getting jobs. It is the principal reason I advocate for legalizing adult-use marijuana.

“According to research, New Jersey spends upwards of $140 million a year adjudicating low-level marijuana possession offenses, and marijuana-related arrest rates are tilted three to one against African-Americans, even though rates of marijuana use are similar among races.”

But Murphy is also looking for a new stream of income to the state’s coffers. Indeed, he wants legislation passed by Jan. 1. That way $60 million from taxes on the sales of recreational pot can be collected by the end of the state’s fiscal year, on June 30, 2019.

Murphy’s plan is going to face significant opposition.  Republicans will almost surely oppose the plan, but the GOP is outnumbered in the Senate by a 24-to-16 count. Meanwhile, there are 52 Democrats in the General Assembly compared to just 28 Republicans. However, some Democrats have also expressed opposition to Murphy’s proposal for legalized recreational pot.

Even if Murphy is able to round up sufficient support in Trenton for legalizing recreational marijuana, it still isn’t likely potheads will be able to walk into a state-approved store to purchase a bud or two in time to celebrate New Year’s Eve. The devil is in the details, and details can slow things down to a crawl.

State Laws

Vary Greatly

First of all, the senators and Assembly members will have to agree on the details of legislation. And the nine states – Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington – plus the District of Columbia that have currently legalized recreational pot have decidedly different details.

All limit possession to people 21 years of age and older. But that’s where the similarities end.

For example, how much pot can a person in the aforementioned states possess? The limit is one ounce (actually 28½ grams while an ounce is 28.35 grams) in Alaska, California, Colorado, Nevada and Washington state. You can possess up to one ounce of “usable marijuana” in a “public setting” in Massachusetts, but up to 10 ounces in a private home. The limit in Oregon is eight ounces of “usable cannabis.”

Notice that the limits in Vermont and Maine weren’t discussed.

Vermont just “legalized” pot in January, making it the first state in the U.S. to deal with recreational marijuana via the legislative process instead of public referendum. But the law, which allows possession of up to an ounce of pot and the growing of two mature plants and four immature plants per housing unit for personal use, won’t take effect until July 1. And it didn’t allow recreational sales, although some Vermont lawmakers are attempting to rectify that situation. So, even if the New Jersey Legislature approves a recreational marijuana bill and Gov. Murphy signs, it is unclear if the bill would take effect immediately.

Maine’s voters approved legalization of the sale and growing of recreational pot in a referendum back in 2016. But the exact regulations were left to the Maine legislature. Its members took months to draft those regulations, but when they finally did, Gov. Paul LePage, an outspoken opponent of legalized pot, vetoed their bill, sending them back to the drawing board. So you still can’t legally purchase recreational pot in the Pine Tree State.

If marijuana could only be smoked, it would be relatively easy to establish weight limits. But pot can also be consumed in marijuana-laced edibles.

Most people who grew up in the 1960s have probably heard of pot brownies, maybe even cookies and candies. But today there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of pot recipes for things such as butter, oils, granola bars, mac and cheese, smoothies, iced teas, pastas, liquors, barbecue sauces, “canna-milk,” honey, tacos, jerked chicken, pancakes, French toast, lasagna, cornbread, bacon, waffles, etc. Just about any food item can have marijuana extracts added to it.

How do you – or, more importantly, states – measure marijuana in foods? Some states have attempted to address the issue. Adults in Massachusetts can possess up to five grams of cannabis concentrate. Californians can possess up to eight grams of concentrate. But seriously, once that concentrate is put in food items, how do you measure it?

Then there is the issue of growing. The limit in Alaska is six plants, three of which can be mature. The six-and-three-plant personal limit also applies in Colorado, although a household there can have up to a dozen. California residents may grow up to six plants, period, per residence. If you live in Massachusetts, you can grow up to six mature plants. Nevada has two growing rules: If you live within 25 miles from the nearest retail cannabis shop, you can grow up to six plants; if you live more than 25 miles away from such a shop, you can grow up to a dozen. Oregon limits a residence to four plants; Washington state does not allow home growing.

Confused yet? No doubt about it, New Jersey legislators have many a template to choose from when writing marijuana laws.

And the subject of sales regulations still hasn’t been broached. That’s when bureaucrats typically get involved, where laws become detailed regulations. Bureaucrats aren’t typically associated with speedy results.

In the coming weeks, The SandPaper will be looking at already-introduced bills in the New Jersey Legislature and how they differ, how other states have regulated sales and, finally, how states where recreational marijuana has been legalized deal with motorists under the influence of pot.

Given the complexity of the subject, Murphy might be far too optimistic if he thinks legal recreational pot will become a reality by the end of the year.

— Rick Mellerup

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