Cannabis consumers have much cause to celebrate now that legalization of the mighty herb is sweeping the USA like a massive green tidal wave. But because marijuana is still prohibited at a federal level, and most states are tackling legalization independently, the result is a patchwork quilt of differing laws that can be quite confusing to navigate. That’s why Reset has partnered with Paul Armentano, Deputy Director of The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), to publish the handy new reference book, The Citizens Guide to State by State Marijuana Laws.
With simply organized charts that put the most pertinent info right at your fingertips, and full color plates and graphics that break down difficult legalese into easy to understand terms, the book is a must-have for anyone who wants to enjoy medical marijuana yet steer clear of breaking the law. Sporting an afterward by travel expert Rick Steves — who helped champion recreational legalization in Washington State — and a lengthy introduction that covers the long road leading to ending the prohibition of the most powerful plant on earth, the book is also a great gift for any cannabis enthusiast and a necessary addition to the modern library of the well informed.
Reset met up with author Paul Armentano, who also serves on the faculty of Oaksterdam University and is a Senior Policy Advisor for Freedom Leaf, Inc: The Marijuana Legalization Company, to talk about the book’s relevance and purpose.
Reset: Hi Paul, great to chat with you and great work on the book. Who exactly is a book like this for and why is it important to publish this guide to marijuana laws now?
Paul Armentano: First of all, there is ostensibly greater interest from the general public than ever before, and political interest is at an all-time high as well. Marijuana laws are changing rapidly and we are also in a space where there are many different publications vying for views on the issue. That’s why this book is important right now, as NORML has been working towards the legalization of marijuana since 1970. We have a long history on this issue and have literally hundreds of criminal defense attorneys who specialize in cannabis cases behind us.
Reset: So the book is for the average Joe, with little to no legal background, correct?
Paul: The book is really for anyone who may have an interface with law enforcement. The legality and status of marijuana liberalization differ greatly state by state, making the book important for anyone who may find themselves in a position where there is a question about current laws. Our approach is to provide the average consumer with information they can use to stay safe in a complex environment.
Reset: Complex is right. One of the first things that stood out to me in the book is that even the most progressive states when it comes to marijuana legalization are still far from a free-for-all. Colorado, for example, which is gaining worldwide notoriety for its recreational use policies, still considers over 12 ounces of marijuana a felony. Is this why its important for people to know the law more precisely?
Paul: There is a real irony in the idea that if prohibition is control, then legalization is the opposite. When a substance is legalized, it is inherently not going to be a free-for-all at all; it is now a controlled and regulated substance. If there are going to be violations and punishments however, those should not be applied to those who use marijuana responsibly, which is why the book is important.
Marijuana laws and penalties are among the most arbitrary in our criminal code. I mean, what other behavior can brand one a state-licensed, tax-paying entrepreneur in one jurisdiction and a felon in another? In Colorado, for instance, the home cultivation of marijuana is legal under state law and the commercial cultivation and retail sale of marijuana is state authorized. Yet, if one crosses the state line into Oklahoma, the cultivation of even a single marijuana plant or engaging in the sale of any amount of cannabis can result in life in prison — seriously, life, that is the state law.
Reset: Much of the confusion and differing status is due to the fact that marijuana is still illegal at a federal level, right? What do you think is going to happen to the federal law in the next five years, if you can predict?
Paul: If we look at the repeal of alcohol prohibition as precedent, we see that there comes a point in time when the federal government simply elects to leave the issue up to the discretion of the states. To some degree, that is already happening, with Congress recently approving statutory language forbidding the Justice Department from interfering in state marijuana policies.
Like with the regulation of alcohol, there is a growing consensus that marijuana policies ought to be the prerogative of state lawmakers and voters, not the federal government, and that these regulations ought to reflect regional mores and desires. More and more states are taking a stand and making it clear that they wish to pursue alternatives to marijuana prohibition and I believe this trend will continue.
Reset: What are some of the myths that have been broken, now that we are starting to see legalization happening on a large scale? I remember hearing for years that legalizing marijuana would cause all sorts of nightmares, from higher crime rates to underage use.
Paul: Well, we have had opponents arguing for years that legalization couldn’t be done at all, that it would always be an underground market. That, like most other negative predictions, turned out to be untrue, as we see now in Colorado.
One of the main reasons that these dire scenarios have not come to pass is that the marijuana market already existed. All that legalization did was bring to light something that was already a strong part of American culture.
If anything, legalization has removed the underground aspects of the marijuana industry and replaced them with people who want the spotlight, who want to be identified as producers and retailers. They have reputations that have to be established and are worth protecting.
Reset: Now that the cat is out of the bag, it seems like there is going to be a domino effect around the corner. What does your forecast in terms of legalization look like for the next couple of years?
Paul: Never in modern history has there existed greater public support for ending the nation’s nearly century-long experiment with marijuana prohibition and replacing it with regulation. The majority of the public realizes that it makes no sense from a public health perspective, a fiscal perspective, or a moral perspective to perpetuate the prosecution and stigmatization of those adults who choose to responsibly consume cannabis.
In November of 2016, voters will go to the ballot box in over half a dozen states with an opportunity not only to change state policy, but with an opportunity to forever change our national discussion about marijuana and how we as a society treat those who consume it responsibly.
Reset: So how does this book play into that movement? How can it empower people and why is it unlike any other book on marijuana laws on the market?
Paul: Tens of millions of Americans consume cannabis. Many do so for social purposes but an estimated 1.5 million Americans also do so for therapeutic purposes. And many more are contemplating whether cannabis therapy is appropriate for them. In some states, both patients and non-patients possess the option to use marijuana legally, if they follow state parameters. In other jurisdictions, any possession or use of marijuana is strictly illegal and can result in an arrest, jail time, and a criminal record.
Despite our culture’s growing acceptance of marijuana, over 700,000 Americans are arrested annually for violating marijuana laws — that’s almost 2,000 arrests per day. In most cases, those arrested are victims of geography. In other words, it is the ground one stands upon, not the act of consuming marijuana itself that largely dictates what one’s legal outcome will be. This is the first book to provide both consumers and non-consumers with an explicit roadmap of this complex and rapidly changing legal landscape.
The Citizen’s Guide to State-By-State Marijuana Laws is available now from bookstores and dispensaries, or online at Whitman.com.