Congratulations! Your state just legalized cannabis. Now what?
Cannabis legalization is slowly but surely coming to fruition in the US. In 2016 alone, a handful of states, including Arkansas, Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, eased restrictions surrounding the selling and medicinal consumption of the plant. Getting this far is a huge accomplishment and now that cannabis is legal, it will be treated like other regulated substances and medicines on the market today.
Below are three things you can expect to happen, now that cannabis is legal in your state.
No Laws, No Service
If you thought passing laws was the hard part, think again. Previously, since legal cannabis regulations were non-existent, the first challenge for states that just legalized the herb is to create guidelines for the industry, which must be completed within a specific timeframe. Taking Florida as an example, the state is in the process of finalizing cannabis regulations. Lawmakers are still deciding how patients will be assessed to qualify for a medical marijuana card. So at the moment, medical dispensaries aren’t popping up around the area – not yet. Before that can start happening, licensing regulations must be setup for businesses to follow and legitimize their establishment.
Adhering to Consumption Guidelines
Patients interested in consuming cannabis, in a state that offers it legally, will be required to adhere to strict consumption guidelines. Lighting up in public, next to a school or on federal property is a big no-no and will likely get you in trouble. Furthermore, there are age restrictions for people partaking in the plant, as well as for businesses selling to customers. For instance, in Colorado, where cannabis is legal on a recreational level, individuals must be over the age of 21 to hold or use herb purchased in a retail environment.
It is important to educate yourself about these guidelines as they are implemented, because each state abides by a unique set of laws for cannabis consumption. If you cross state borders often for work or weekend trips, it is crucial to understand how guidelines differ on the other side. In some cases, you may find that neighboring states still view cannabis as an illegal substance (e.g., crossing over from Florida to Alabama, where medical consumption of psychoactive cannabis products is prohibited).
Possession and Limitations
How much you can buy and hold is also closely regulated under legal cannabis. Again, this varies greatly from state-to-state. On the far end of the spectrum, Oregon-based residents are able to possess up to 24 ounces of medical cannabis and up to six mature plants (18 immature seedlings). While in Montana, registered medical cardholders may legally hold up to an (one) ounce of cannabis and 12 seedlings.
“Now that weed is legal, it’s also taxed and regulated; unfortunately though, many tourists (and Nevadans) don’t have any idea what those regulations look like. It’s incredibly important that anyone who plans to participate in the consumption of marijuana knows the rules in order to stay safe and legal,” said Cassidy Leslie from the University of Nevada Reno.
Marijuana legalization has made the November ballot in Massachusetts. With north of 25,000 signatures supporting the initiative, legalization proponents successfully gathered well over the necessary 10,792 signatures to qualify.
As long as at least 10,792 of those signatures are certified as legitimate, a foregone conclusion, then Massachusetts’ voters will decide the state’s legal cannabis future come this fall. Should voters approve the Massachusetts Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Initiative, the state would become the fifth to adopt legal cannabis.
The proposal would “allow the use, cultivation, possession, and distribution of recreational marijuana for individuals at least 21 years old.” Like in Colorado and other legal states, the initiative strives to regulate cannabis like alcohol and set up a legitimate legal cannabis market.
This decision would supplement the state’s current medical marijuana law which Massachusetts has had been in place since 2013; the state’s dispensaries began opening last summer. If the initiative passes, Massachusetts would become the first East Coast state to adopt a fully legal marijuana policy.
However, Massachusetts is not the only state that could join Colorado, Oregon, Alaska and Washington as a legal state. With California, Nevada, Arizona, and Maine also voting on legalization this fall, the United States could conceivably have nine legal marijuana states (plus the District of Columbia) by November.
The “cannabis election” is shaping out as a major story this fall, and one that could provide far more excitement than the Clinton-Trump debacle. Stay tuned and cast your vote for cannabis come November 8!
In order to combat the growing opioid epidemic in the United States, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts is urging the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to research and consider “the use, uptake and effectiveness of medical marijuana as an alternative to opioids for pain treatment in states where it is legal.”
This marks the latest in a series of requests that Warren and her colleagues have made to various US agencies asking for stronger efforts towards reducing prescription painkiller abuse.
In her letter, Warren asks the CDC’s director Dr. Thomas Friedan,
“to explore every opportunity and tool available to work with states and other federal agencies on ways to tackle the opioid epidemic and collect information about alternative pain relief options.”
Data supporting marijuana as an alternative to opioids is promising. A 2014 study cites a significant reduction in opioid overdoses in states with medical marijuana policies. Steps taken by the Obama Administration have eased slightly the barriers to cannabis research, but federal prohibition and DEA drug scheduling still criminalizes marijuana, putting states that have medical cannabis laws in a legal limbo.
The response to Warren’s calls for reform have been a rehashing of current policies, maintaining the federal government’s stance that marijuana is highly addictive, of no medicinal value and therefore a Schedule I substance. It is worth noting that methamphetamine is classified as a Schedule II substance, highlighting the inconsistencies behind the DEA’s drug classifications.
In the US, opioid abuse has skyrocketed over the last fifteen years. Drug overdoses have increased by 137 percent since 2000, according to the CDC. More than 47,000 Americans died of opioid overdoses, compared to 33,000 from auto accidents. Although Americans account for 5 percent of the world’s population, they consume 75 percent of the world’s supply of prescription drugs.
In addition, sales of prescription opioids rose by 300 percent since 1999, indicating a major trend in physicians prescribing the drugs. The pharmaceutical industry has taken note, going so far as to manufacture drugs that combat the common side effects of long-term opioid use. Warren alluded to the escalation by requesting the CDC clarify their physician guidelines for treating pain.
The War on Drugs treated drug addiction as a criminal offense instead of a disease, resulting in overcrowded prisons and an annual $39.9 billion-dollar burden to taxpayers. This failure, coupled with the opioid epidemic, has caused a shift in attitudes towards substance abuse. Warren herself previously opposed cannabis legalization in 2011, and politicians on both sides of the aisle have reevaluated their positions amidst growing criticism of U.S. drug policy.
photo credit: elizabethwarren.com
Eight Massachusetts state senators are spending time in Colorado in the hopes of learning more about the state’s laws regarding legal cannabis. The trip is reportedly in preparation for whether Massachusetts voters approve, via ballot initiative, to legalize recreational cannabis statewide, so that the rollout of such a program would go more smoothly than that of the medical program.
The legislators will meet with Colorado officials at the state and municipal levels, as well as law-enforcement officials, to inquire as to how a legalization scheme would be best implemented in Massachusetts.
“If Massachusetts were to legalize marijuana for recreational use –and we are anticipating this will be on the ballot in November of this year– it would be a major social change, and there are ramifications for public health, public safety and for economic areas,”
said state Massachusetts Sen. Jason Lewis (D-Winchester), who is leading the delegation to Colorado.
“Colorado already has wrestled with a lot of these issues over the past several years, and that’s really the best opportunity for us to learn and to anticipate what may be happening in Massachusetts,” he continued.
The proposed Massachusetts law, which has already passed its biggest hurdle in order to appear on the ballot, has been spearheaded by the advocacy group Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Massachusetts.
Were it not for the ballot measure option, legalized recreational cannabis would be unlikely to become law: it is opposed by both the state’s Republican governor and the state’s house speaker.
Massachusetts offers its citizens a medical cannabis program that went into effect in 2013 and covers conditions like cancer, ALS, Crohn’s, HIV/AIDS, and Parkinson’s. Registered patients in the state are permitted a 60-day supply of cannabis and can engage in limited home cultivation. More than 23,000 patients have signed up for the state’s program to take advantage of safe, regulated access to medical cannabis.
Among these medical cannabis patients in The Bay State is 71-year-old Boston sportscasting icon Bob Lobel. Lobel has undergone a series of serious operations, including two rotator cuff surgeries, two knee replacements, four back surgeries, and procedures for dual femur fractures. All of this surgery has resulted in a great deal of post-operative pain for the veteran sportscaster. Said Lobel:
“My issue was strictly pain. I didn’t want to take any more OxyContin or oxycodone or Percocet, for a variety of reasons. The biggest thing I was worried about was addiction.”
Lobel described how the pharmaceutical pain killers he was prescribed drained his energy and made him tired. “It was hard to function and I couldn’t go on TV all drugged up,” he said. The results of Lobel’s experiment with medical cannabis to treat his conditions?
“It was really about helping with the pain, and it did.”
Unfortunately, Massachusetts hasn’t been quite as efficient in granting Lobel a medical exemption as the cannabis has been at combating his pain. During a three-day trip to Portland, Oregon to visit his daughter, Lobel visited a certifying doctor, applied for a medical card, and obtained it. Next thing he knew, he was legally purchasing and consuming cannabis — but only in Oregon, thousands of miles from his home and work.
Lobel is still waiting for Massachusetts to grant him the legal right to gain safe access to cannabis medicine in his own state. “I don’t want to have to fly across the country and deal with drug-sniffing dogs at the airport. I want to do everything legally here,” he said. The famous TV personality says he does not enjoy smoking cannabis, but instead uses oil. He has experimented with edibles like candy and cookies.
Lobel described how cannabis is effective in treating his pain, but allows him to avoid the negative side effects of the opiates he previously consumed. He said:
“In terms of pain relief, [cannabis]…really helps.”
Until Massachusetts grants him a medical card and he is allowed to gain safe access within his own state, Lobel says he is able to “take the edge off” using the cannabis he obtained in Oregon (no word on how he got it back to the East Coast). He said another challenge has been overcoming the stigma associated with “marijuana.” “It’s more than a reasonable alternative [to opioids] once you get past the stigma like you’re under a railroad bridge smoking pot,” he said.
Lobel has been impressed by the selection of cannabis products and the myriad ways in which it can be consumed, calling his options “incredible.” To show his newfound support of medical marijuana, he referenced former Red Sox pitcher Bill Lee.
“When Bill Lee was talking about marijuana and his brownies back in the ’70s, he wasn’t kidding. He was just ahead of his time.”
Photo credit: Boston Herald, CBS