As of the end of 2016, eight US states and the District of Columbia have legalized possession and use of recreational marijuana. This is despite the fact that the US Federal government still classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 controlled substance; ie, one with “no currently accepted medical use in the United States, a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision, and a high potential for abuse.” (Twenty-eight states and the District of Columbia disagree, having also legalized medical marijuana, but that’s another story.)
Like the electoral college, states’ rights is a quirky element of the American experiment with democracy. Generally speaking, Federal law overrides state laws, but there’s a long history of conflict over the scope of the Federal govenment’s powers. In the case of marijuana, the US Department of Justice has formally stated that while it still holds marijuana to be illegal, it won’t interfere in states where it has been decriminalized as long as it is kept tightly regulated.
This means that when visiting a state that has legalized recreational marijuana, you can expect rules and regulations to be specific and enforced without exception. There are some differences between localities regarding how much you can possess, but these 13 points apply anywhere you go.
1. You must be 21 or over to buy, possess, give or receive any amount of recreational marijuana. In some states minors may be granted medical marijuana cards, but they still can’t buy recreational cannabis.
2. Expect to pay cash. Because marijuana is still illegal under Federal law, banks and credit card companies won’t work with sellers. There is likely to be a cash machine in or just outside the dispensary.
3. The amount you can buy is limited. Staff will be well-versed in exactly how much pot or pot derivative they can sell you, and they aren’t going to make any exceptions. They know they’re operating in a bit of a grey area legally and they aren’t going to risk their license, livelihood or freedom for you.
4. Only licensed dispensaries may legally sell marijuana. If you are 21 or over you may legally transfer limited amounts of marijuana to another person who is 21 or older, but you can’t receive money, goods or services in exchange for it.
5. You may not carry marijuana across state lines, even to another state where it is legal. Interstate commerce is under the control of the Federal government.
6. You may not consume marijuana in public or in a vehicle.
7. Marijuana in a vehicle must be in a closed container. In some states it may have to be in the trunk or a locked glove box.
8. It is illegal to drive under the influence of marijuana, just as with any other intoxicant.
9. There are limits to how much you can possess. There may be different amounts permitted to be kept at home and to be carried on your person. Each state also specifies how many plants you may (or may not) grow on private property.
10. You may not possess or use marijuana on Federal lands or property, including national parks.
11. Child-resistant packaging is required. Any product that isn’t sold in a sealed package must be placed in “exit packaging” that meets certain requirements and will be provided by the dispensary.
12. Local municipalities may have differing regulations. Even where marijuana is legal on a state level, it may be banned on a local level.
13. Landlords/accommodation owners may still prohibit marijuana use. It’s their place, and while you’re staying there they make the rules.
Links to state-specific laws