oregon

2016 was a huge year for cannabis. So we decided we would rank the fifty states from worst to best on how they treat cannabis and those who consume it. Each of our State of Cannabis posts analyzed one state. We started this series on January 10, 2016, and now, over a year later, we are ready to crown the top state for cannabis law: Oregon.

Our previous rankings are as follows: 2. Colorado; 3. Washington; 4. California;  5. Alaska; 6. Massachusetts;  7. Maine; 8. New Mexico; 9. Nevada; 10. Hawaii; 11. Maryland; 12. Connecticut; 13. Vermont; 14. Rhode Island; 15. Kentucky; 16.Pennsylvania; 17.Delaware; 18. Michigan; 19. New Hampshire; 20. Ohio; 21. New Jersey; 22. Illinois; 23. Minnesota; 24. New York; 25. Wisconsin; 26. Arizona; 27. West Virginia; 28. Indiana; 29. North Carolina; 30. Utah;  31. South Carolina; 32. Tennessee; 33. North Dakota; 34.Georgia; 35. Louisiana; 36. Mississippi; 37. Nebraska; 38. Missouri; 39. Florida; 40. Arkansas; 41. Montana; 42. Iowa; 43. Virginia; 44. Wyoming; 45. Texas;  46. Kansas;  47. Alabama;  48. Idaho; 49. Oklahoma;  50. South Dakota.

Oregon

Recreational Marijuana. Oregon voters approved Measure 91 to legalize recreational cannabis in 2014. This was two years after the failure of the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act, which appeared on the 2012 ballot and would have legalized recreational marijuana.  Measure 91 allows adults, 21 and over, to grow up to 4 plants on their property, possess up to 8 ounces of usable marijuana (dried marijuana flowers or leaves that are ready to smoke) in their home, and carry up to 1 ounce in public. Like other legal states,  marijuana cannot be consumed in public.

The Oregon Liquor Control Commission has the authority to tax, license and regulate recreational marijuana grown, sold, or processed for commercial purposes but does not regulate the home grow/personal possession provisions of Oregon law. The OLCC oversees multiple license types including producer, processor, wholesale, retail, and researcher licenses. Oregon has not limited the number of licenses it will grant, meaning that OLCC is continuously accepting applications. It also allows a single licensee to own multiple licenses (e.g., an entity can hold a producer, processor, and retail license). This differs from the approach taken by Washington, which limits the number of licenses granted and is currently not accepting new marijuana applications. Oregon’s marijuana market is open to out of state actors as the state does not impose a residency requirement. This also differs from Washington and from Colorado which require licensees to be state residents. Oregon imposes a relatively low 17% tax on recreational marijuana sales. Finally, Oregon is one of the few states to allow for cannabis delivery, although Portland, the state’s largest city, does not (yet) allow for marijuana delivery.

Medical marijuana. Oregon first legalized medical marijuana in 1998 by passing Ballot Measure 67. Oregon’s medical market is distinct from the recreational market although there is some regulatory overlap between the two. For example, Oregon medical dispensaries were authorized to sell recreational marijuana from October 1, 2016-January 1, 2017 while the recreational market took shape.

Oregon medical marijuana is regulated by the Oregon Health Authority. Individuals with a qualifying medical condition and a recommendation for medical marijuana from an attending physician can apply for a medical marijuana card. Qualifying conditions include the following:

  • Cancer
  • Glaucoma
  • Alzheimer’s
  • HIV/AIDS
  • Cachexia (wasting syndrome)
  • Severe pain
  • Severe nausea
  • Seizures, including but not limited to seizures caused by epilepsy
  • Persistent muscle spasms
  • Multiple sclerosis

Medical patients may possess up to 6 plants, which may only be grown at a registered grow site address, and up to 24 ounces of marijuana. This means patients are legally allowed to possess more cannabis than recreational users. Medical users may purchase from licensed medical marijuana dispensaries, but are limited to purchasing the following amounts in a single day

  • 24 ounces of usable marijuana;
  • 16 ounces of a medical cannabinoid product in solid form;
  • 72 ounces of a medical cannabinoid product in liquid form;
  • 16 ounces of a cannabinoid concentrate whether sold alone or contained in an inhalant delivery system;
  • Five grams of a cannabinoid extract whether sold alone or contained in an inhalant delivery system;
  • Four immature marijuana plants; and
  • 50 seeds.

Many expect Oregon’s medical and recreational cannabis regimes will eventually merge, and proposed legislation could accomplish just that.

Bottomline. Determining the top state in this series was not easy. There was significant debate among our cannabis lawyers as to whether California, Colorado, Oregon, or Washington should take top honors. Seeing as how we have offices and lawyers in California, Washington and Oregon, we must concede just a bit of bias here. Ultimately, we determined that Oregon has the best marijuana program.

One of the prime determinants for us was Oregon not having a residency requirement, as we see this as very business friendly and making it much easier for cannabis businesses to secure funding. Oregon also has shockingly low licensing fees and it does not cap the number of licenses it will grant. This means one need not be a millionaire to get into the industry and this also means there will be (and there is) substantial competition to keep cannabis prices down. Oregon also allows its cannabis licensees to vertically integrate by owning multiple license types. The state is also consumer friendly, with relatively low taxes and with laws that allow for home growing your own cannabis. Oregon has had legal medical marijuana for nearly twenty years and it used this medical market to permit early sales of recreational marijuana, evidencing the state’s willingness to take a pragmatic approach to marijuana legalization.

Oregon’s cannabis laws are not perfect, but they are the best in the nation.

Do you agree?

jeff-sess-quote

Despite our strong dislike of Jeff Sessions’ views on cannabis, he actually makes a very good point here. It is indeed a concern that Congress has made the possession and distribution of marijuana an illegal act, as that is definitely not something “desired any longer.” With over half the country supporting legalization of recreational marijuana and far more people favoring legalizing medical marijuana, what’s truly criminal is maintaining our outdated and undesired federal cannabis laws. Why continue playing games by saying it’s illegal, but we as the federal government will not fund certain enforcement actions? Why keep laws that have become irrelevant and unwanted? Weak, unpopular and unenforced laws weaken the concept of law as a whole.

As Sessions essentially says, Congress should get off the pot and “pass the law to change the rule.” It is time and just about everybody would benefit.

colorado2016 was a huge year for cannabis. As a result, we are ranking the fifty states from worst to best on how they treat cannabis and those who consume it. Each of our State of Cannabis posts analyzes one state and our final post will crown the best state for cannabis. As is always the case, but particularly so with this series, we welcome your comments.

We have reviewed all 50 states and are now almost ready to reveal our top pick when it comes to cannabis. This post focuses on the runner-up, Colorado, which along with Washington, was the first state to vote to legalize recreational marijuana.

Our previous rankings are as follows: 3. Washington; 4. California;  5. Alaska; 6. Massachusetts;  7. Maine; 8. New Mexico; 9. Nevada; 10. Hawaii; 11. Maryland; 12. Connecticut; 13. Vermont; 14. Rhode Island; 15. Kentucky; 16.Pennsylvania; 17.Delaware; 18. Michigan; 19. New Hampshire; 20. Ohio; 21. New Jersey; 22. Illinois; 23. Minnesota; 24. New York; 25. Wisconsin; 26. Arizona; 27. West Virginia; 28. Indiana; 29. North Carolina; 30. Utah;  31. South Carolina; 32. Tennessee; 33. North Dakota; 34.Georgia; 35. Louisiana; 36. Mississippi; 37. Nebraska; 38. Missouri; 39. Florida; 40. Arkansas; 41. Montana; 42. Iowa; 43. Virginia; 44. Wyoming; 45. Texas;  46. Kansas;  47. Alabama;  48. Idaho; 49. Oklahoma;  50. South Dakota.

Colorado

Recreational Marijuana. Colorado voters approved Amendment 64 in November 2012, legalizing recreational marijuana. In Colorado, adults 21 and over can possess up to one ounce of marijuana of useable marijuana. Colorado allows for home grows, meaning adults are allowed to grow cannabis plants in their homes. The state allows up to six marijuana plants in a private and locked space in a residence and a person may possess all marijuana grown from those plants, so long as that marijuana stays on the premises.

Colorado’s recreational marijuana market is the nation’s oldest. Though Washington and Colorado both voted to legalize marijuana on the same date, Colorado was the first to implement its recreational market. That market is made up of licensed cultivation facilities, product manufacturing facilities, testing facilities, and retail stores. The Colorado Department of Revenue oversees Colorado’s licensed cannabis entities. According to the Department’s website, Colorado’s market is currently made up of 441 retail stores, 623 cultivation facilities, 241 product manufacturers, and 13 testing facilities. Colorado cannabis eclipsed $1 billion in sales in only the first ten months of 2016 according to Fortune.

Colorado (Denver, actually) is in the forefront (sort of) on public consumption of cannabis. Denver voters approved Initiative 300 to allow private businesses to offer space for their patrons to consume cannabis. However, the Liquor Enforcement Division of the Colorado Department of Revenue recently approved a rule prohibiting businesses with a liquor license from applying for cannabis consumption permits under Initiative 300. This new rule will mean that Denver bars and restaurants that serve alcohol cannot also allow their patrons to use cannabis on-site.

Medical Marijuana. Colorado first approved the medical use of marijuana in 2000 when Colorado voters approved Amendment 20. Patients may possess up to 2 ounces of marijuana and may cultivate no more than six marijuana plants. Doctors may recommend more to treat a patient’s specific medical needs. The following are qualifying conditions for which a patient may use medical cannabis:

  • Cancer
  • Glaucoma
  • HIV/AIDS
  • Cachexia (wasting syndrome)
  • Persistent muscle spasms
  • Seizures
  • Severe nausea
  • Severe pain

Colorado patients may purchase cannabis at licensed medical dispensaries at a lower tax rate than recreational users. Colorado’s medical cannabis industry continues to operate alongside its recreational cannabis market.

Bottomline. Colorado ranks so high on our list largely because it has a proven history of being on the cutting edge of cannabis reform. It was the first to implement recreational marijuana and it has had an operational medical market for nearly twenty years. Colorado is now moving forward with allowing public consumption of cannabis as well. The cannabis industry is booming in Colorado, with profits from cannabis exceeding initial projections. One could argue that Colorado’s successful legalization has done more for legalization nationwide than that of any other state. One could also make a good argument for Colorado having done more to end the stigma surrounding cannabis than another state.

Next week we will conclude this series by revealing our number one cannabis state and. Our number one state owes a lot to Colorado and to Washington (our number three state) for its number one ranking. That state achieved its lead ranking by having been able to learn from the two great states (Colorado and Washington) that preceded it on legalizing cannabis.

Stay tuned.

 

chrystal-quote

Cannabis medicine maker and educator Chrystal Ortiz’ ideology on pot touches on two important points: that cannabis should be freed and that humans should be free to experience it. Cannabis grows naturally, but with stigma and misinformation attached; enough stigma and misinformation to keep it federally illegal and away from many who could benefit from it.

Comedian Bill Hicks made a similar point when he said, “Why is marijuana against the law? It grows naturally upon our planet. Doesn’t the idea of making nature against the law seem to you a bit . . . unnatural?”

And of course it is unnatural. Not only because cannabis grows naturally, but also because it’s unnatural (and unnecessary) to keep a harmless plant away from adults who wish to use it. It’s an issue of personal freedom.

What more can we even say?

Washington State cannabis lawyers
Washington State cannabis laws. Very very good.

This is proving to be a big year for cannabis. As a result, we are ranking the fifty states from worst to best on how they treat cannabis and those who consume it. Each of our State of Cannabis posts will analyze one state and our final post will crown the best state for cannabis. As is always the case, but particularly so with this series, we welcome your comments. As a result of the overwhelming success of many cannabis initiatives this November, all the remaining states in this series have legalized the adult use of recreational marijuana. This week we cover Washington, who along with Colorado, was the first to legalize recreational marijuana.

Our previous rankings are as follows: 4. California;  5. Alaska; 6. Massachusetts;  7. Maine; 8. New Mexico; 9. Nevada; 10. Hawaii; 11. Maryland; 12. Connecticut; 13. Vermont; 14. Rhode Island; 15. Kentucky; 16.Pennsylvania; 17.Delaware; 18. Michigan; 19. New Hampshire; 20. Ohio; 21. New Jersey; 22. Illinois; 23. Minnesota; 24. New York; 25. Wisconsin; 26. Arizona; 27. West Virginia; 28. Indiana; 29. North Carolina; 30. Utah;  31. South Carolina; 32. Tennessee; 33. North Dakota; 34.Georgia; 35. Louisiana; 36. Mississippi; 37. Nebraska; 38. Missouri; 39. Florida; 40. Arkansas; 41. Montana; 42. Iowa; 43. Virginia; 44. Wyoming; 45. Texas;  46. Kansas;  47. Alabama;  48. Idaho; 49. Oklahoma;  50. South Dakota.

Washington

Recreational marijuana. Washington State legalized the recreational use of marijuana in 2012 when its citizens voted to pass of Initiative 502. Under Washington State law, adults over the age of 21 can legally possess up to one ounce of marijuana flower, sixteen ounces of marijuana-infused product in solid form, seventy-two ounces of marijuana-infused product in liquid form, or seven grams of marijuana concentrate. The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board regulates Washington’s cannabis market, creating and enforcing rules regarding marijuana.

Washington’s marijuana market mainly consists of three different license types: producer, processor, and retail licenses. To a certain extent, cannabis licensees cannot vertically integrate because an individual cannot have an interest in all cannabis licensing types. A retail license holder may have no interest in a producer or processor license. However, a licensee may possess both a producer and processor license. To qualify for any Washington State cannabis license, one must have at least six months of residency in Washington State.

Washington State requires residency compliance from anyone who qualifies as a “True Party of Interest,” which means anyone who either exercises “control” of the cannabis company (control is not defined) or who receives or is entitled to receive either net or gross profits from a licensee. By way of a couple examples, True Parties of Interest include anyone who holds stock in a corporation and it includes the spouses of any stockholders. Every True Party of Interest in a Washington State cannabis business must be vetted by the Liquor and Cannabis Board and must have resided in Washington for at least six months, same as a cannabis licensee.  Failure to disclose a True Party of Interest leads to instant cancellation of a license.

The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis and Cannabis Board  is not currently accepting applications for cannabis producer, processor, or retail licenses. This means Washington’s cannabis market is currently closed to newcomers seeking a new license, but it it not closed to those seeking to get into the Washington State cannabis industry by buying outright or by buying into an existing licensed Washington State cannabis business.

Medical Marijuana. In November of 1998, Washington voters approved Initiative 692, providing legal immunity to patients using medical marijuana. In 2011, the Washington State Legislature passed SB 5073, allowing patients to possess up to 15 cannabis plants and 24 ounces of usable cannabis. The bill required the Washington State Departments of Health and Agriculture to register and license cannabis dispensaries. However, those provisions and various other provisions relating to dispensaries were vetoed by then-Governor Christine Gregoire. What was left was a semi-legal gray medical marijuana market.

I-502 created a legal recreational cannabis market independent of the existing medical market. This dual channel cannabis system radically changed in 2015 when the Washington State Legislature merged Washington State’s medical and recreational cannabis markets by passing SB 5052 and HB 2136. Among other things, these two new laws required both recreational and medical marijuana in Washington State be produced, processed, and sold by licensed cannabis entities.

Today, Washington State retail cannabis stores must obtain a medical marijuana endorsement to sell medical cannabis, though there is no legal distinction between recreational and medical cannabis itself. Instead, the distinction between recreational and medical cannabis is “in the eye of the beholder,” meaning that if a medical patient who obtains authorization from a health care professional uses cannabis to treat his or her ailment, it is medical.

The amount of medical marijuana a patient can possess depends on whether the patient decides to register with the state’s medical marijuana database. Medical cannabis patients who register in the medical marijuana database may purchase the following amounts of cannabis, free of sales tax, from a medically endorsed retail store:

  • Three ounces of usable marijuana
  • Forty-eight ounces of marijuana-infused product in solid form
  • Two hundred sixteen ounces of marijuana-infused product in liquid form or
  • Twenty-one grams of marijuana concentrate

Patients in the Washington State medical marijuana database are also allowed to grow from six to fifteen plants, as recommended by their doctor, and possess up to eight to sixteen ounces of marijuana produced from those plants. Patients who elect not to enter the Washington State medical marijuana database may purchase only the amounts allowed for recreational users and grow four to six plants for medical use and possess up to six ounces of usable marijuana from those plants. These patients also do not get to purchase their cannabis (even if for medical use) free of sales tax.

Bottomline. Washington is a pioneer in the movement to reform marijuana laws. Though it has a one of the most sophisticated marijuana markets in the country and really good cannabis laws overall, Washington does not quite rise to the very top of our state cannabis ranking. This is because the two remaining states, Colorado and Oregon, have implemented legal marijuana in a way that is more patient-friendly and that allows for greater competition among licensed marijuana entities and generally lower prices to the consumer. But the difference between Washington and the remaining two states is minuscule, as all three of these states (Washington, Colorado and Oregon) have extremely favorable cannabis laws, that truly are considerably better and more established than any of the other states. Washington State’s excellent marijuana laws and its overall tenor of enforcement make Washington number three in our State of Cannabis series.

 

steveKerr

Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr has a perspective on cannabis to which we all should subscribe: open-minded, supportive, and adverse to stigma (just the way Kerr coaches). Though Kerr himself has used marijuana medicinally and did not find it effective for his own pain, he is still able to identify that a) cannabis is medicinally useful for others, b) there is an unfair stigma attached to cannabis and c) there is a widespread problem of prescription narcotics being casually prescribed.

We should all be as open-minded as Kerr. Just because marijuana isn’t medicinally useful for you does not mean it isn’t useful in some form for someone else, and if you were in that someone else’s shoes, you would not want your medicine to be prohibited or inaccessible, nor would you want there to be stigma attached to it.

Given that eight out of nine states chose to legalize in some capacity this November, and given that polls show the majority of Americans support cannabis legalization, Kerr is also correct to note that attitudes surrounding pot are changing.

We need to continue working to change attitudes surrounding cannabis until legalization is in place for the entire country, and until pot is considered as legitimate (or more legitimate) medicine than the consistently over-prescribed prescription drugs.

One of our lawyers from our Seattle office is in Spain meeting right now meeting with our lead Spain cannabis attorney and learning how much of a stigma there still is in Spain against Cannabis users, who many there view as “drug addicts.” Most in the United States are past that, but we still need to work on removing the stigma.

 

 

californiaThis is proving to be a big year for cannabis. As a result, we are ranking the fifty states from worst to best on how they treat cannabis and those who consume it. Each of our State of Cannabis posts will analyze one state and our final post will crown the best state for cannabis. As is always the case, but particularly so with this series, we welcome your comments. As a result of the overwhelming success of many cannabis initiatives this November, all the remaining states in this series have legalized the adult use of recreational marijuana. This week we cover the Golden State: California.

Our previous rankings are as follows: 5. Alaska; 6. Massachusetts;  7. Maine; 8. New Mexico; 9. Nevada; 10. Hawaii; 11. Maryland; 12. Connecticut; 13. Vermont; 14. Rhode Island; 15. Kentucky; 16. Pennsylvania; 17. Delaware; 18. Michigan; 19. New Hampshire; 20. Ohio; 21. New Jersey; 22. Illinois; 23. Minnesota; 24. New York; 25. Wisconsin; 26. Arizona; 27. West Virginia; 28. Indiana; 29. North Carolina; 30. Utah;  31. South Carolina; 32. Tennessee; 33. North Dakota; 34.Georgia; 35. Louisiana; 36. Mississippi; 37. Nebraska; 38. Missouri; 39. Florida; 40. Arkansas; 41. Montana; 42. Iowa; 43. Virginia; 44. Wyoming; 45. Texas;  46. Kansas;  47. Alabama;  48. Idaho; 49. Oklahoma;  50. South Dakota.

California

Recreational marijuana. On November 8, 2016 California voters approved the Control, Regulate, and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA). California is the largest state in the nation and after the AUMA is fully implemented, the 38 million people (children excluded) who reside in California will have access to legal marijuana. Needless to say, this is huge.

The AUMA is a complicated, 62-page measure. At its most basic, the AUMA allows adults (21 and over) to possess roughly an ounce of cannabis flower, eight grams of concentrate, or up to six plants. It also creates a regulated market for the production, manufacture, and sale of marijuana.

The AUMA creates 19 distinct cannabis licenses:

  1. Type 1 = Cultivation; Specialty outdoor; Small.
  2. Type 1A = Cultivation; Specialty indoor; Small.
  3. Type 1B = Cultivation; Specialty mixed-light; Small.
  4. Type 2 = Cultivation; Outdoor; Small.
  5. Type 2A = Cultivation; Indoor; Small.
  6. Type 2B = Cultivation; Mixed-light; Small.
  7. Type 3 = Cultivation; Outdoor; Medium.
  8. Type 3A = Cultivation; Indoor; Medium.
  9. Type 3B = Cultivation; Mixed-light; Medium.
  10. Type 4 = Cultivation; Nursery.
  11. Type 5 = Cultivation; Outdoor; Large.
  12. Type 5A = Cultivation; Indoor; Large.
  13. Type 5B = Cultivation; Mixed-light; Large.
  14. Type 6 = Manufacturer 1.
  15. Type 7 = Manufacturer 2.
  16. Type 8 = Testing.
  17. Type 10 = Retailer.
  18. Type 11 = Distributer.
  19. Type 12 = Microbusiness.

The AUMA allows for vertical integration of these licenses, with the exception of testing licensees; if you have a testing license, you cannot hold another type of license. This means one entity may hold licenses in multiple stages of production, possibly controlling cannabis from seed-to-sale.

State residency is required for licensure, as indicated by the following text in the AUMA:

No licensing authority shall issue or renew a license to any person that cannot demonstrate continuous California residency from or before January 1, 2015. In the case of an applicant or licensee that is an entity, the entity shall not be considered a resident if any person controlling the entity cannot demonstrate continuous California residency from and before January 1, 2015.

This provision expires on December 31, 2019, unless the California legislature extends it. This essentially creates a three-year residency requirement for California applicants. It is not clear who will be considered a “controlling” person of an entity and we expect the state to provide guidance on this issue as the AUMA is implemented.

Medical Marijuana. Twenty years ago, California became the first state to implement a workable medical marijuana program and the laws and rules have developed over time. In California, a patient may use medical cannabis upon receiving a approval from a physician. Patients may possess enough cannabis necessary for their personal medical use, but this amount must be reasonable and in compliance with any local ordinances that may limit personal amounts. Patients can purchase cannabis from cooperatives and dispensaries. Patients have the option to obtain a state ID card showing they are allowed to use medical cannabis. Under the AUMA, these ID cards may also allow for a local tax exemption.

The AUMA is intended to regulate the non-medical use of marijuana but, there will be some overlap in the agencies regulating cannabis under the AUMA. The “Bureau of Marijuana Control”, a sub-agency of the Department of Consumer Affairs will regulate and license California’s recreational marijuana market. This sub-agency is distinct from the Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation (BMCR) which oversees the medical market. However, the AUMA makes clear that it will “consolidate and streamline regulation and taxation for both non-medical and medical marijuana.” This means the BMC may eventually subsume the BMCR. The AUMA also reinforces stricter requirements on physicians who authorize medical marijuana use.

Californians should look at the cannabis progression in Washington State as an example of what may end up happening with recreational marijuana legalization in California.  When Washington Initiative 502 passed in 2012 and legalized recreational marijuana, many medical marijuana activists were concerned about its impact on medical pot and on July 1, 2016, the two markets (recreational and medical) officially merged. California is distinct from Washington because medical cannabis is already regulated by state and local agencies. Washington’s medical market was largely unregulated when I-502 passed. Time will tell what impact the AUMA has on California’s medical marijuana, but there is a good chance that California too will eventually see a merger of its medical and recreational cannabis regimes.

Bottomline. California legalized medical marijuana in 1996, becoming the first state to allow cannabis for medical use.  The AUMA is a detailed measure that should lead to a robustly regulated marijuana market. California legalization may be the tipping point that leads to legalization at the federal level. California has the potential to be the top cannabis state in the nation (by far), and we expect California’s ranking among the states to only rise. But for now, we rank it number 4, making it  our top state that has yet to implement a recreational program, but behind the three states that already have full-on recreational cannabis programs in place — Colorado, Oregon and Washington.

Our California cannabis attorneys are constantly writing about California’s cannabis laws and so if you want to read more about California, click California cannabis for all of our California articles.

California cannabis

California Lt. Governor Newsom is right. Though Attorney General-Elect Sessions preposterously declares that marijuana smokers are “bad people,” that does not mean the majorities who voted for legalization will accept such absurdity. Marijuana won in so many states this past election not because of an upswing in either liberal or conservative voters (we’ve written multiple times on how cannabis is not a partisan issue) but because people all across the political spectrum see its value and want to increase access to it. Though Jeff Sessions of course has tremendous legal power, he does not have the power to change the minds of over half the country, nor the power turn back the clock on cannabis in California or elsewhere, if there is strong push-back. We’ve come as far as we have with marijuana legalization because that is what the people want. Cannabis is the will of the people and no one in any office can negate or destroy that so long as we do not just let them.

We can’t let outdated views like Sessions’ derail the decades of hard work that have generated our recent cannabis freedoms. We have to keep fighting and pushing forward.

We must and we will. Who is with us on this?

Cannabis LawyersThis is proving to be a big year for cannabis. As a result, we are ranking the fifty states from worst to best on how they treat cannabis and those who consume it. Each of our State of Cannabis posts will analyze one state and our final post will crown the best state for cannabis. As is always the case, but particularly so with this series, we welcome your comments. As a result of the overwhelming success of many cannabis initiatives this November, all the remaining states in this series have legalized the adult use of recreational marijuana.

With four states remaining — Alaska, California, Oregon and Washington — we deviate from our regular format of ranking the actual states and we instead turn to the District of Columbia. This post will examine the District’s cannabis laws and focus on how the federal government has made implementing those laws in D.C. so difficult.

Our state rankings are as follows: 5. Alaska; 6. Massachusetts;  7. Maine; 8. New Mexico; 9. Nevada; 10. Hawaii; 11. Maryland; 12. Connecticut; 13. Vermont; 14. Rhode Island; 15. Kentucky; 16. Pennsylvania; 17. Delaware; 18. Michigan; 19. New Hampshire; 20. Ohio; 21. New Jersey; 22. Illinois; 23. Minnesota; 24. New York; 25. Wisconsin; 26. Arizona; 27. West Virginia; 28. Indiana; 29. North Carolina; 30. Utah;  31. South Carolina; 32. Tennessee; 33. North Dakota; 34.Georgia; 35. Louisiana; 36. Mississippi; 37. Nebraska; 38. Missouri; 39. Florida; 40. Arkansas; 41. Montana; 42. Iowa; 43. Virginia; 44. Wyoming; 45. Texas;  46. Kansas;  47. Alabama;  48. Idaho; 49. Oklahoma;  50. South Dakota.

Washington D.C. 

Recreational Marijuana. On November 4, 2014, voters in Washington D.C. approved Initiative 71, allowing individuals 21 and older to legally possess, use, purchase, or transport up to two ounces of marijuana within the District. The initiative also permits individuals to legally possess, grow, and harvest up to six marijuana plants in their principal residence, with no more than three flowering plants at one time. However, the initiative did not directly address cannabis sales. Instead, Initiative 71 called for the city council to draft regulations for marijuana retail sales.

Those regulations were never drafted due to interference by the federal government. Congress possesses budgetary oversight for Washington D.C. and it has used that spending power to frustrate Initiative 71’s implementation. In December 2014,  U.S. Congressional members included a rider in the U.S. federal spending bill prohibiting the use of federal funds towards any efforts to implement Initiative 71. Despite this, D.C city officials and the mayor pledged to move forward with legalization. Eventually, members of Congress actually threatened D.C.’s mayor with criminal penalties for implementing legalization.

Amidst legal uncertainty, legalization in D.C. nonetheless went into effect in February 2015. The threats by Congressional members were somewhat effective though because the D.C. City Council has yet to create regulations necessary for a truly functioning legal recreational marketplace in our nation’s capital. In D.C., cannabis is legal to possess and cultivate, but not to buy or sell. The District’s recreational marijuana market has operated in this “gray area” since cannabis was legalized. With Republicans now controlling both our nation’s House and Senate, our cannabis lawyers do not see the Washington D.C.’s betwixt and between situation changing anytime soon.

Medical marijuana. Washington D.C.’s medical marijuana market is currently operational after years of delay. Voters legalized medical marijuana in 1998. But just as it did with Initiative 71, Congress stalled the process by limiting D.C.’s use of federal funds to get its medical cannabis program off the ground. Cannabis dispensaries did not start selling medical marijuana in D.C. legally until 2013. Washington D.C.’s Department of Health summarizes its medical cannabis program as follows:

All qualifying patients have the right to obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes when his or her primary physician has provided a written recommendation that bears his or her signature and license number. This recommendation must assert that the use of marijuana is medically necessary for the patient for the treatment of a qualifying medical condition or to mitigate the side effects of a qualifying medical treatment.

Unlike many states, D.C. does not have a list of qualifying conditions, meaning that doctors have the freedom to recommend cannabis for a wide range of medical conditions.

D.C. patients and recreational users are both limited to two ounces of cannabis. But unlike recreational users, cannabis patients may purchase cannabis at a dispensary. A 2013 Amendment to D.C.’s medical cannabis law prohibits more than five marijuana dispensaries from opening in the District. The mayor has authority to expand that number to eight. The D.C. City Council recently implemented new regulations requiring the city’s dispensaries to submit cannabis to labs for testing. These rules are intended to protect consumers from ingesting dangerous additives that can be found on cannabis.

Bottomline. For years, the federal government has taken a generally hands-off approach to the states legalizing both medical and recreational cannabis. So long as an individual state’s legalization regime complies with the dictates of the Cole Memo, the federal government typically stays away. This has not been the case in our Nation’s Capital, as federal lawmakers are simply more concerned with cannabis legalization in their own backyard. Though Washington D.C. now has a workable medical marijuana program, we see the battle over its recreational marijuana program getting only more heated as the Trump administration and a Republican Congress take over. If D.C. were a state, it would definitely rank within our top ten for cannabis, but that may change for the worse, and soon.

cannabis lawyer

President Obama has an interesting perspective on the cannabis issue. He’s right, legalization isn’t a panacea — few things are. However, legalization would improve an array of things, as our marijuana laws are all over the map in the United States. Some states have extreme consequences for very small amounts of marijuana (such as prison time and high fines), others have medical cannabis programs, while others provide legal brick and mortar stores where you can legally purchase a wide range of cannabis products. These drastically different laws and consequences make one thing clear: we need standardization of marijuana laws for the country as a whole. Testing legalization out in some states is a great way to begin, but ultimately we cannot stop there.

What’s more, without standardization and legalization, we leave room for racial profiling, we prohibit some from being able to access much needed medicine, we provide fuel to the drug cartel fire, and we hold our country’s economy back from garnering huge tax revenues. President Obama is correct: cannabis should be legalized and regulated. Treating marijuana in this way would allow for standardization across all states, provide revenue for our economy, begin to diminish the power of illegal drug cartels, and put a stop to one major way in which racial profiling is carried out.

Legalization and standardization are good for us all. It may not be a panacea, but it’s a very good place to start.