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Pot Legalized in Ore., Alaska, and D.C.: What Lawyers Should Know

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By Mark Wilson, Esq. on November 06, 2014 10:17 AM

Whether you're a Democrat or a Republican or neither, the one thing you can agree on after Tuesday's election is it's time to party in three more states! Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, D.C., all voted to legalize recreational marijuana.

Each law is slightly different, though, so if you're practicing in any of these jurisdictions, it's helpful to know just what they cover and when they go into effect. There are actually lots of issues here for many attorneys, including criminal defense, tax, corporations, and property. So read up!

What Do The New Pot Laws Cover?

Here's a general overview of the new pot laws in each jurisdiction:

  • Oregon's law allows personal marijuana use by people 21 or older. Marijuana is no longer a "controlled substance" in the state, but personal possession is limited to 1 ounce in public and 8 ounces total. It's legal to sell marijuana paraphernalia to people 21 and older. You can possess up to four marijuana plants before you're required to get a license to grow and start paying taxes on your plants.
  • Alaska allows personal use, also by people over 21, but limits possession to 1 ounce or less. No consumption is allowed in public. It's legal to sell marijuana paraphernalia to people 21 or older.
  • In Washington, D.C., personal consumption is again limited to people 21 or older and to 2 ounces or less. You're allowed to have up to six marijuana plants in your house. The D.C. law allows explicitly notes that businesses and government offices can restrict employees' marijuana use.

When Do The Laws Take Effect?

  • In Oregon, personal possession will be allowed starting July 1, 2015. The state Liquor Control Commission has until January 1, 2016, to draft regulations for processing and selling marijuana in the state. (So, for six months, Oregonians will have to get their "legal" weed from somewhere else.)
  • In Alaska, voter initiatives become law 90 days after election results are certified, the Alaska Dispatch reports. That means pot for personal consumption will likely be legal by the end of February. The state's Marijuana Control Board has nine months from the effective date of the law to draft implementing regulations. One year after the effective date, the Board will start accepting applications to operate marijuana establishments.
  • In Washington, D.C., the law takes effect... well, maybe never. Congress gets 30 days to decide whether it wants to "disapprove" almost any law passed by voters in the District of Columbia. If Congress does so, it effectively repeals the law. Otherwise, it would take effect after this 30-day period.

Are The Laws Retroactive?

None of the laws is explicitly retroactive in the sense that people convicted of marijuana possession before the laws took effect could have their convictions set aside. In practice, however, once marijuana initiatives passed in Colorado and Washington state in 2012, prosecutors began to drop misdemeanor marijuana possession charges.

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