Legal Marijuana, Local Governments, & Federal Law: the Debate Wages On

Colorado and Washington state have more in common than football teams headed to the Super Bowl — they’re also the first two states to legalize marijuana.

On November 6, 2012, both states passed laws proclaiming legal marijuana and regulating the drug similar to alcohol, including DUI provisions, regulated and taxed commercial sales, and a legal marijuana age of 21 and up.

But just because these states have declared marijuana possession (and in Colorado’s case, even personal marijuana cultivation) legal doesn’t mean that the legal marijuana debate can be put to rest. After all, federally, marijuana is still illegal, although the US Department of Justice has stated that it will not prosecute legal marijuana in Washington or Colorado.

How else is legal marijuana a little fuzzy, even in Washington and Colorado? Here are a few facts that complicate the passage of legal marijuana laws:

Legal Marijuana: Not So Fast

Rights of the Local GovernmentLegal Marijuana, Local Governments, & Federal Law: the Debate Wages On

Even if a state establishes legal marijuana laws, localities may be able to stop sales or simply opt out of them. Washington’s attorney general made this clear in a ruling on the rights of the local government to block legal marijuana sales. And in the rocky mountain state, Colorado Springs decided not to sell legal marijuana.

Food Stamps & Legal Marijuana?

With legal marijuana on the books, questions about methods of purchase are bound to arise — including whether food stamps can be used to buy legal marijuana. Colorado’s legislature currently bans liquor stores, casinos, and gun shops from taking food stamps as payment, but no formal laws against legal marijuana dispensaries and food stamps have been set forth. This has led some people to fear that food stamps could be used to purchase legal marijuana. Still, food stamp recipients are banned from buying non-food items with their aid, meaning fears of legal marijuana purchased openly on taxpayer dollars are largely unfounded.

A Lower Age Limit for Legal Marijuana?

Some groups are advocating for lower age limits for legal marijuana, as well as an increase in the one ounce restriction governing legal possession of recreational marijuana. Although a previous attempt to add a similar initiative to the ballot failed, legal marijuana supporters may continue their campaign to loosen governmental regulations.

Religious Backlash

Conservative religious groups are vocal in their dissent over legal marijuana. Colorado-based Focus on the Family acknowledges the medicinal properties of the drug, but asserts that recreational usage goes too far, using biblical support.

The Price of Pot

When Colorado’s 37 legal marijuana shops opened on January 1, 2014, they reportedly made $1 million in their first day of sales. With state and local taxes involved (at a tax rate of almost 29% in Denver), legal marijuana sells for $50 – $60 for an eighth (or 3.5 grams). This price is almost double the cost of medical marijuana in the state. Some legal marijuana advocates assert that the price is too high and are calling for less taxing, while others say that taxation is the price of legalization.

Legal Marijuana in the Workplace?

Thanks to provisions in legal marijuana laws, people can be prosecuted for driving under the influence of the drug — but can they be fired for impairment at work? Employers can expect a patchwork quilt of laws and court rulings to determine the permissiveness of legal marijuana in the workplace in various states.

If you are concerned about your policy with respect to the changing landscape of legal marijuana, let ARCpoint Labs of Elk Grove Village review your policy. As experts in workplace wellness and drug-free workplace policies, we have experienced attorneys who can examine and adjust your policy to keep it current as the laws evolve.

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