For the first time in U.S. history, two states have passed laws to legalize and regulate marijuana intended for recreational use. The successful ballot initiatives in Colorado and Washington are controversial and what will occur as the states take measures to begin implementation is highly debated and uncertain. While recreational marijuana use is now technically legal for residents of these areas, it remains a schedule I narcotic according to federal mandate, and federal government officials have not yet made a public statement as to how they will react to these laws. They have, however, been increasingly aggressive in their crackdowns of dispensaries that sell medical marijuana in the 17 states where it is legal (Massachusetts became the 18th last Tuesday), and this may be an indication of how the Department of Justice plans to handle these new matters.
Initiatives in both states designate about a year for implementation of the law, during which particular agencies are tasked with adopting standards for licensing of dispensaries, producers, regulating safety and setting up procedures for distribution. Only after those rules are in place will state producers or dispensaries even begin to apply for state licenses, and to get their products approved for sale. In Washington State, home-growing marijuana for recreational reasons remained barred, as did the public display or use of pot. Users will be able to buy up to an ounce of dried marijuana; one pound of marijuana-infused product in solid form, such as brownies; or 72 ounces of marijuana-infused liquids. The cannabis would then be subject to testing to establish its THC content, and labeled accordingly.
Proponents feel that these measures could create new avenues of tax revenue. Some estimates have suggested that I-502 could raise nearly $2 billion in tax revenue over the next five years, with the money going toward education, health care, substance abuse prevention and basic government services. But, opponents have stated that legalization would lead to more drug abuse and concerns about things such as driving while impaired. It would be especially difficult to regulate driving under the influence of marijuana because, unlike alcohol, marijuana stays in the blood long after the high wears off a few hours after use, and there is no quick test to determine someone’s level of impairment. It has been established that several factors can skew THC blood tests including: age, gender, weight and frequency of marijuana use. Also, THC can remain in the system weeks after a user sobers up, leading to the anxiety shared by many in the 16 medical marijuana states. They could be at risk for a positive test at any time, whether they had recently used the drug or not.
Only time can tell what direction the rest of the country will go in response to the elections’ results. Other states could choose to follow with their own similarly written measures. An alternative outcome to this could also be that the Justice Department will prevent the laws from going into effect by announcing that federal law preempts the state initiatives. Whether the laws remain unchallenged or not, it is unlikely that the Augusta area will face decisions similar to these in the near future due to its majority conservative population.