The results of the 2016 general election were astounding, as it signaled the beginning of the rapid decline of cannabis prohibition. Eight out of the nine states that included marijuana legislation on their ballots legalized cannabis: California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada legalized cannabis for use while Arkansas, Florida, Montana, and North Dakota legalized it for medicinal use. Arizona was the only state to vote cannabis legalization down, but it was a close race—48 percent of Arizona voters approved the ballot measure while 52 percent voted against it.
The train for legalization picked up tremendous speed in 2016, and since then, it has shown no signs of slowing down. In 2018, Vermont and Oklahoma got on board and they may be joined by four other states before the year is over.
Vermont Legalized Weed Through Its Legislature
Vermont became the ninth state that legalized cannabis for use on July 1, 2018. Most notable about this state’s legalization, however, is that it is the first state to achieve this milestone through the legislature.
Vermont’s law was signed by the state’s governor, Phil Scott, in January and came into effect in July. The law authorizes adults aged 21 and older to legally possess up to one ounce of cannabis flower and up to six plants (only two of the plants can be mature at a time).
Lieutenant Governor David Zuckerman capturedthe shifting zeitgeist in a televised statement in support of the new law. “Many people have been in this state or around the country incarcerated, particularly people of color,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to change that and, you know, folks deserve their individual choices.”
One of the most challenging aspects of the law is that, while it did legalize the possession of limited amounts of flower and plants, it didn’t provide a legal recourse to actually obtain seeds. It remains illegal to purchase cannabis in the state. This leaves interested cannabis consumers with a few options, each legally gray.
Ostensibly, a resident of Vermont could purchase cannabis from a legal state and return home with it. However, inter-state activity falls under federal jurisdiction, so it would be well within legal bounds for federal law enforcement to dole out drug trafficking charges to anyone who chooses this route.
But here’s the other thing: when it comes to federal law, all cannabis-related possession, distribution, and consumption are illegal because cannabis remains classified as a Schedule I substance, or an illegal drug with a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use. If abiding by the federal law is your goal, you’re not going to achieve that if you get anywhere near weed regardless of the plant’s state-mandated legal status.
There is another, more convenient option for Vermont residents looking to get their hands on some pot, and that is this: find a generous friend who already has some weed and see if they will give it to you for free.
“Gifting” cannabis is legal, although there are ways for the entrepreneurial minded to get around this. In Washington D.C., for example, the possession of cannabis is legal while the sale remains prohibited. People get around this by gifting their cannabis while selling merchandise for a price that covers the cannabis that has been “given away.” Or they ask for donations. Or they make sure that no one can see them collecting money in an exchange.
Cannabis enthusiasts are creative and persistent; it’s unquestionable that pot will get around. Whether Vermont’s law will catch up with the market or allow a gray market to thrive instead remains to be seen.
The fact that Oklahoma legalized medical cannabis in late June is a powerful example of the bipartisan support behind the legalization movement, especially when it comes to medical marijuana.
Cannabis legalization is typically associated with the Democratic Party. Oklahoma is a bright red state, but its medical marijuana ballot measure passed by a decisive 57% to 42% margin. Cannabis support is at an all-time high among Americans regardless of party affiliation. Nationally, 63 percent of Americans support cannabis legalization. The number is even higher when it comes to medical marijuana—93 percent of Americans approve of medical weed.
Voters elected medical cannabis despite little funding from the major drug reform policy groups that have played important roles in passing similar measures in other states. Additionally, the well-funded opposition spent nearly half a million dollars on anti-cannabis television ads.
“It is noteworthy that this measure passed in such a red state during a primary election, when voter turnout tends to be older and more conservative than during a general election,” Marijuana Policy Project state policies director Karen O’ Keefe said in a press release. “Support for medical marijuana is overwhelming, and it spans demographic spectrums.”
The new law allows patients with state-issued medical marijuana cards to legally possess up to three ounces of flower in public. They will be able to keep up to eight ounces at home. Additionally, patients can grow up to 12 plants—only 6 of them can be mature at a time—and possess up to one ounce of concentrates and 72 ounces of edibles. The law also allows caregivers to grow or purchase cannabis for their patients.
People without a medical card caught with 1.5 ounces of cannabis or less can “state a medical condition” in response to their arrest. This would make them eligible to receive a misdemeanor offense punishable by a maximum fine of $400 rather than a more serious charge.
4 More Potential Wins from Michigan, North Dakota, Utah, and Missouri
The 2018 general election will present voters in four other states with an opportunity to expand cannabis laws as well.
Michigan has added a measure that would legalize cannabis for popular vote on November’s ballot. If passed, the initiative would allow adults aged 21 and older to possess up to 2.5 ounces of flower, grow cannabis at home, and open or work in a cannabis-related business.
North Dakota’s measure would also legalize cannabis for use. Additionally, the provision would allow persons convicted of cannabis violations to expunge their records.
If passed, Utah’s Medical Cannabis Act would legalize cannabis for medicinal use. Qualifying patients would be able to obtain a medical card in order to purchase a limited amount of cannabis to treat their condition. Smoking and/or vaporizing cannabis would not be permitted.
Finally, Missouri looks like it may also have a medical cannabis resolution up for a vote in November. Currently, three propositions are accumulating the required signatures necessary to make it on the ballot.