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State Laws: Keeping up With the Legal Marijuana Industry

By Steven Tanner on October 19, 2015 9:58 AM

States have a certain amount of freedom to experiment with the law, often through legislative action but also (and increasingly so) through the ballot box. States are what John Stewart once called the "meth labs of democracy," and often are just as volatile. 

It wasn't long ago that same-sex marriage existed in a confusing, polarizing, and ever-shifting tangle of state and federal law, but that all changed with a single U.S. Supreme Court ruling. State laws allowing the medical and/or recreational use of marijuana (or cannabis) are following a similar trajectory, but it remains to be seen how the federal government ultimately will respond.

Here's a look at the latest changes in state marijuana laws from FindLaw's Learn About the Law Team.

The Thin Green Line: Marijuana Regulation in the States

State approaches to cannabis legalization are quite literally all over the map and in various stages of development -- often quite confusing -- while some local governments have restricted marijuana businesses within their borders. Some states that pass medical or recreational marijuana laws lack the regulations necessary to properly implement these laws. And if that's not ambiguous enough, the federal government still classifies marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance with no accepted medical use.

So how do we at FindLaw keep up with it all? Good question -- we'll walk you through some examples.

Making Sense of Georgia's Medical Cannabis Law

Southern states generally have not been so kind toward the liberalization of marijuana laws, but Georgia has bucked the trend (sort of). Peach State lawmakers passed House Bill 1 in April of this year in order to pave the way for eligible patients to obtain low-THC, high-CBD cannabis oil (meaning it lacks the "high" of traditional marijuana preparations). The law, known as "Haleigh's Hope Act," sounds like a win for medical marijuana proponents. But there's one tiny problem -- the state has made it virtually impossible for patients to obtain their medicine.

So while the law allows patients with a written doctor's recommendation to possess as much as 20 ounces of low-THC cannabis oil, cultivation and retail sales remain illegal. Does Georgia really intend for patients to get their medicine on the black market? If it's shipped across state lines, it could be charged as a federal felony offense.

As with other relatively new state marijuana laws, it's a work in progress. While the law in its current form is virtually unworkable, it likely will be revised with guidance on how patients should acquire their medicine. We'll keep our ear to the ground and make sure any changes are reflected on our site (see Medical Marijuana Laws by State to learn more).

Tax-Free Buds in Oregon ... for Now

Oregon is the latest state to allow for the recreational use of marijuana. Voters approved Measure 91 in the 2014 general election, which was implemented on July 1, 2015. At that point, Oregon residents could not be arrested for possessing or using the herb in their private residences and also were permitted to grow up to four plants. Retail sales were phased in on Oct. 1, but only through existing medical marijuana dispensaries.

And while retail sales of the herb will come with a hefty 25 percent excise tax beginning in 2016, sales are currently tax-free. But since the law is still in a transitional state, while the details and timelines may change, we make it a point to let our readers know that it isn't quite settled.

Whether it's the licensing of retail marijuana shops in Oregon or the accepted manner in which Georgians may access low-THC cannabis oil for medical purposes, marijuana laws in several states need further clarification in order to function properly. And the federal government, while taking a "hands-off" approach, still hasn't changed marijuana's status as a controlled substance. Until then, rest assured that we will continue to monitor relevant state laws and get you the most current information available.

Those looking to enter the legal marijuana industry should check out FindLaw's newest section: Marijuana and Other Highly Regulated Businesses. If you have been arrested on marijuana charges, you may want to contact a drug crime attorney in your area.

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