New York may not have the toughest marijuana laws in the country, but many people are wondering if perhaps New York should join Washington State or Colorado in fully legalizing marijuana possession. Interestingly, New Jersey just opened its first medical marijuana dispensary which is an indication that the state may possibly move towards legalization.
Last November, the voters in those states made history with ballot initiatives. But two months later, voters are learning that legalization may be a little bit more complicated than they first thought. New Yorkers can look to these two states to learn about what legalization really looks like.
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While marijuana possession may be legalized under state law in Colorado and Washington, the drug is still illegal under federal law. While the likelihood of a federal prosecution is pretty minimal for a casual user, this possibility still muddies the legal waters. Washington residents still should avoid encounters with federal law enforcement agents at locations such as US border check points, federal court houses, national parks, etc. Additionally, most Indian reservations still outlaw marijuana possession.
While society may view marijuana as a right of passage for college students, school administrators are still banning the drug outright on school property, even for medical patients. Universities use the excuse that they are worried about losing federal funding if they appear to be too tolerant of marijuana possession. They usually point to the Safe and Drug Free Schools and Communities Act, which requires schools to have anti-drug policies. Additionally, even in the States that have legalized marijuana, the drug is still illegal for anyone under 21 years of age.
No Marijuana Stores
While the federal government may turn a blind eye to marijuana possession, it is still unclear if they will tolerate the existence of marijuana stores catering to recreational users. Consequently people are hesitant to apply for the permits to open the businesses. Even state officials are cautious about the process due to the fear that they may be viewed as being a accessory to a crime. The end result is that while marijuana possession may be legal, it is still unclear if there will be a legal method to obtain the drug.
Marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington has led to an increased interest in the prosecution of “marijuana DUI” cases. While the drug does not appear to have the same detrimental effect as alcohol, police have still stepped up their efforts against “stoned drivers.” The effects of marijuana can be subtle, and in the absence of any really cues as to impairment, police have been relying on profiling. For people who voted for legalization, these enforcement actions seem to be more than they bargained for.
So while the drug has been “legalized” in Washington and Colorado, there are still questions that have to be answered under the law. We will see these matters resolved in the months to come.
Steve Graham is a Spokane DUI lawyer and he represents a lot of medical marijuana patients throughout Washington State.