Which Legal Cannabis State Has the Best Model?
Although some of the new state cannabis laws have yet to go into effect, 21% of Americans now live in a state or federal district that has voted to legalize adult-use cannabis.
If you live in a legal state, then you know what cannabis freedom feels like. If you don't live in a legal state, keep fighting, you will get there!
Every state has a different model, with some being better than others.
From a purely industry perspective, it's very difficult to compare models right now because a lot of regulations are still being fine-tuned in older states, and rule-making is in its infancy in more recent states that have passed initiatives.
One important thing to remember is that these cannabis laws are part of a long, evolutionary process – as they change and update over time.
So here’s how each adult-use state currently stacks up:
Washington is the only state that passed an adult-use initiative that did not include a home cultivation provision. As such, Washington is the only place in America where cannabis possession is legal, yet cultivation is not.
In Washington an adult can possess up to 1 ounce of cannabis flower, 7 grams of cannabis concentrates, 16 ounces of cannabis-infused product(s) in solid form, and 72 ounces of cannabis-infused product(s) in liquid form.
Because of its lack of a home cultivation provision, Washington is considered by many veteran cannabis community members as having the legalization model that is in most need of improvement.
Colorado's legalization model is considered to be better than Washington's, if for any reason because home cultivation is allowed. In Colorado adults over 21 years of age can cultivate up to 6 plants at a secured residence, with 3 of those plants being mature. Residents can also possess all of the cannabis legally grown at the residence.
Adults over 21 in Colorado can also possess up to one ounce of cannabis. Unlike Washington, Colorado's law does not specify the form of cannabis, so the ounce can be comprised of any combination of flower, concentrates, edibles, etc.
Colorado treats the possession of up to 2 ounces as an infraction, punishable by a $100 fine. Compare that to Washington, which treats possession of over an ounce of flower as a criminal misdemeanor, and possession of over 40 grams of cannabis flower as a felony.
Prior to the 2016 election, I would say hands down that Oregon had the best legalization model. That's now open for debate with some of the new states entering the picture.
Oregon passed its legalization model with nearly 56% of the vote, legalizing the cultivation of up to 4 plants per residence as long as one of the residents is 21 years or older.
While the plant limit in Oregon is less than in Colorado, Oregon's possession limits are significantly higher. In Oregon an adult 21 and over can possess up to an ounce of cannabis (any form) on their person in transport.
But there are separate limits for households of adults that are 21 or over in Oregon. At home, a person 21 years old or older can possess up to 8 ounces of flower, up to 6 ounces of solid cannabis-infused products, up to 72 ounces of liquid cannabis-infused products and 1 ounce or less of cannabis extracts.
Alaska is very interesting when it comes to legalization. Technically, an Alaska Supreme Court decision (1975) ruled that cultivation of less than 25 plants of cannabis for personal use in a private residence is protected under the right to privacy, according to Alaska's constitution. The same is true of possession of up to 4 ounces of finished cannabis.
Activists in Alaska didn't feel that the case law was sufficient, and they ran a successful initiative campaign in 2014 that further legalized the possession of up to 1 ounce of cannabis and cultivation of up to 6 cannabis plants (no more than 3 mature).
The Alaska Supreme Court case can still be brought up in court as a defense for possession and/or cultivation of amounts over the 2014 initiative's limits, but as it stands the provisions of the 2014 initiative are absolute and protect cannabis consumers from any action from law enforcement.
California was the first state to legalize medical cannabis (1996) and is the first of the successful 2016 adult-use initiatives to take effect. It is now legal for adults over 21 to possess up to an ounce of cannabis, with an 8-gram cap on concentrates.
Adults over 21 in California can also cultivate up to 6 plants per residence, and keep at the residence any cannabis that is produced by the legal plants.
There was a lot of misconception leading up to the election in which many thought that possession of over 1 ounce of cannabis was prohibited, however, each legal residence can possess whatever was harvested at the cultivation location, per the initiative language.
Massachusetts voted to legalize adult-use, however the initiative does not take effect until December 15, 2016. Once it takes effect, Massachusetts will be home to one of the best legalization models in the country.
Adults 21 years old or older will be able to possess up to 1 ounce of cannabis while away from home, of which 5 grams can be in concentrated form.
At a person's residence, an adult 21 years or older can cultivate up to 6 plants, with no more than 12 plants total per household. Adults 21 or over can possess up to 10 ounces of cannabis at their residence.
Like California, adults 21 or over can also possess any and all cannabis at their residence from plants that were cultivated at the residence, creating a virtually unlimited cap on possession.
Maine also voted to legalize adult-use this election cycle, however the initiative has not taken effect yet. The initiative takes effect 30 days after Maine's Governor certifies the results, which has yet to happen.
Currently, there is a pending legal challenge from opponents who are demanding a vote recount. That process could further delay implementation.
Once the initiative takes effect, adults 21 years or over in Maine will be able to possess up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis (all forms).
They will also be able to cultivate up to 6 mature plants at their residence, in addition to 12 immature plants and 'unlimited seedlings.' Like California and Massachusetts, adults 21 or over can possess at their residence all of the harvest associated with their legally cultivated plants at the residence.
Nevada voters approved adult-use on November 8, 2016. However, the law does not take effect until January 1, 2017. It's worth noting that prosecutors in Reno and Clark County (which includes Las Vegas) have stated that they will treat cannabis as if the law is already in effect.
Nevada's legalization model provides for the legal possession of up to 1 ounce of cannabis flower by adults 21 years or older, or up to 3.5 grams of cannabis concentrates.
Cultivation will be legal for adults over 21 years old, but only if they live more than 25 miles from a licensed store. There is a cap of 12 plants per household that meet the 25-mile 'halo rule.'
For households that are eligible to cultivate cannabis, the possession of all of the cannabis related to the harvest is legal, similar to the other states that passed cannabis adult-use initiatives in 2016.
Unlike the states that have passed adult-use laws, Washington D.C. does not allow legal sales due to a provision that requires prior Congressional approval. Washington D.C. does however allow adults 21 or over to possess up to 2 ounces of cannabis.
Adults 21 and over can cultivate up to 6 plants per person (3 mature), with a limit of up to 12 plants (6 mature) per residence.
So which state has the best legalization model?
As you can see the state models differ in many ways. It was once thought that states would follow in the footsteps of Colorado and adopt its model, however, time has shown that's not the case.
From a purely cultivation perspective, Maine has the best model because it doesn't appear to cap the number of plants per residence like other states do. The 'unlimited seedlings' provision is unique for adult-use cannabis laws.
Washington would have the worst legalization model from a cultivation standpoint because it doesn't allow cultivation at all. There will be parts of Nevada that will have cultivation prohibited too because of the 25 mile 'halo rule,' but it won't be statewide by default.
From a possession standpoint, Maine has the best public possession limit at 2.5 ounces. From a home perspective, Massachusetts has the best law in that it has the highest specified possession limit (10 ounces), and the catch-all provision of allowing possession of any legally harvested cannabis at the residence.
One thing that people need to keep in mind, as NORML's Deputy Director Paul Armentano points out, is that legalization on Election Day is just the start of a very long process.
The laws that are currently on the books are likely going to evolve over time, with some states adopting new provisions and/or modifying old ones.
Someday federal prohibition will end, and states will be left to decide the issue of cannabis laws on their own. Some states may never adopt an adult-use legalization model.
But hopefully those that do will take the best provisions of each state that went before them, and implement them, in order to free the cannabis plant for responsible adults everywhere.
Is cannabis legal where you live?