[author: Roy Rivenburg]
In the never-ending battle over medical marijuana, the latest flashpoints include a myth-busting study, a popular singer and legal twists in several states.
On the academic front, economists from the University of Colorado at Denver, the University of Oregon and Montana State University issued a report saying medical marijuana dispensaries don’t boost teen pot use. After analyzing data from 1993 to 2009, a time frame in which 13 states decriminalized medicinal weed, the researchers concluded that “legalization of medical marijuana was not accompanied by increases in the use of marijuana or other substances such as alcohol and cocaine among high school students.” In some cases, teenage toking actually fell after legalization of medical marijuana, the report said.
Not surprisingly, pot critics questioned the study, noting among other things that seven of the nation’s top 10 states for teen marijuana use allow medical cannabis. As if on cue to illustrate the point, 19-year-old Miley Cyrus was recently photographed at a Los Angeles-area dispensary (for the second time this year). Although her friend was the one with the merchandise, Cyrus has previously extolled the virtues of marijuana.
Meanwhile, the newest legal developments include Rhode Island and Connecticut approving medicinal pot, New Hampshire vetoing such legislation, and a California appeals court ruling that cities in the Golden State cannot ban dispensaries.
The upshot is that 18 states and Washington D.C. have now decriminalized medical marijuana. However, the smorgasbord of laws can be confusing – and the federal government continues to crack down on the drug, raiding dispensaries in California and other states.
A Legal Minefield
To avoid trouble, be aware of several common misperceptions about medical marijuana laws, says Keith Stroup, legal counsel and founder of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).
For example, having a medical marijuana card doesn’t protect you from being fired by an employer with a drug-free policy. Even if you weren’t impaired, any trace of the drug in your system is legal grounds for dismissal, Stroup said, adding that “people call us almost every day on this,” mistakenly assuming they’re immune.
The same is true when driving: Medical marijuana permits offer no protection from DUI arrests, Stroup said. And some states, such as Illinois and Utah, have zero-tolerance DUI statutes, which means you could be convicted several weeks after ingesting marijuana because certain cannabis byproducts linger in your body. (For more on driving while stoned, see our previous coverage.)
Another frequent mistake is assuming a medical marijuana ID from one state makes it legal to light up in others, even ones with lax pot laws. “This is not like a driver’s license or marriage license,” Stroup cautioned. The only state that reliably recognizes out-of-state cards is Arizona, he said.
It’s also crucial to stay within state limits on the amount of marijuana you may grow or possess, Stroup said. In California, for instance, registered users can keep 8 ounces and six mature plants (or a dozen immature plants), whereas states such as Connecticut and New Jersey allow no homegrown weed.
Because every state has its own rules, Stroup added, “it’s terribly important to familiarize yourself with the laws” of any place you live or visit. To help, NORML publishes a state-by-state reference guide.