The state of cannabis laws in the U.S. is in flux as states move to legalize recreational and medical cannabis. While the U.S. cannabis industry is still in its infancy, we are approaching an important moment in time when the laws that govern it are established in a more permanent and definitive manner. In this blog post, we analyze each state’s cannabis laws in order to determine how they differ. For those of you who are new to the discussion, we first provide a brief overview of cannabis laws. Then, we examine how each state made its decision to legalize cannabis for recreational use and how the cannabis laws vary between the states.

These days, it seems like everyone has a medical marijuana card. But, in some states, many adults are unable to purchase cannabis because of their age. How is that possible? The answer lies in how marijuana is classified by the government.

word-image-10051 Edibles have been an important part of the marijuana industry long before recreational use was legalized. And no state seems to have the same rules for dietary supplements that set the limit for a product’s THC content, portion size requirements, or allowable forms/colors of supplements. As federal legalization approaches, it is important to observe and understand not only the differences between states in regulating edibles, but also the similarities. Edibles are often the subject of controversy among lawmakers and concerned citizens due to concerns about overuse, childhood poisoning and accidental ingestion, and because the effects of edibles on individuals differ significantly from inhaled THC products.

Other State, other regulations

Many states have taken a simple approach to regulating dietary supplements by setting strict limits on the number of milligrams of THC in dietary supplements. Most states consistently set a maximum serving size of 5 to 10 milligrams of THC and a limit of 50 to 100 milligrams of THC per package. Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington have recreational standards that do not exceed these limits. Illinois and Montana have much higher packaging limits of 500 and 800 milligrams, respectively. Many manufacturers would like to see an increase in the THC per serving limit, especially in states where the THC per serving limit is 5 milligrams. Those seeking to expand or change the rules often face an uphill battle, with public health advocates and other third parties offering more resistance than with other marijuana regulation proposals.

And then there’s Alaska.

This is reflected in Alaska’s recent proposal to change the milligram limit from 5 milligrams per serving to 10 milligrams per serving with a 100 milligram limit per package. This issue has generated a lot of public discussion because it is 100% above the current 5 milligram limit. Alaska’s tests on incense blends are conducted with a 20% margin of error, resulting in an effective limit of 120 milligrams per package. Public health organizations and concerned citizens have expressed concern about public intoxication, the potential risk to minors, and the danger of accidental overconsumption. Proponents of these changes cited the high cost of marijuana, the environmental cost of packaging, the lack of a local medical marijuana program, the inability of high-tolerance users to use marijuana effectively under current laws, the availability of the black market, the need to compete with markets in other states and attract tourists, the difficulty of selling low-dose marijuana, the lack of a variety of doses on the market, etc. A total of 71 comments were received from the public (85% were in favor of increasing the limits), indicating much greater public interest than for almost any other regulatory proposal. The ordinance could go to the Alaska Marijuana Control Board for a vote in June. Even if it is adopted, it still needs to be signed by Lt. Governor Kevin Meyer. And even if the dietary supplement law clears all these hurdles, it will still be many months before retailers can sell their new products, as all portion size changes must be approved by the Marijuana Control Board at a regular meeting. It is also important to keep federal legalization in mind when considering changes to state-specific regulations. Changes to local programs should be carefully considered so as not to jeopardize the operator’s ability to transition to federal regulations, if/when they are implemented.

Additional data required

Another problem that bogs down the discussion is the lack of hard data. In some areas, underage drinking has increased since legalization, but there is no data on whether the marijuana was purchased on the legal market. There is also little data on the long-term effects of marijuana overdose in minors and whether these problems are more severe or long-lasting in states with more restrictions on use. In particular, no data are available on whether calls to poison centers or emergency room visits increase after edible product limits are raised, because most states’ programs are very young and initially have milligram limits. In addition to a milligram limit, states regulate various aspects of smoking mixture consumption in interesting ways. Fear of approaching children has determined many of these rules. The market for marijuana packaging, much of which is child-resistant, is expected to reach $1.5 billion by 2024. While many states leave it up to the agency to decide on the attractiveness to children, Washington State has taken a particularly strict approach to regulating edibles spiked with marijuana. Edible products may only be produced and packed in muted colours. Licensees in Washington state are only allowed to use 10 pre-approved shapes for edibles, including squares, rectangles, circles and a few more exotic options like pentagons. Edible packaging is limited to 16 approved colors, with a maximum of three accent colors. Those who wish to proceed must petition the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board. Washington, as well as Arizona, Massachusetts and some other states, ban all edibles in the form of fruit, animals, cartoon characters, people, etc. so as not to attract children. Health and safety aren’t just fun for kids, and most states require rigorous testing to prevent contamination of edibles with aspergillosis, pesticides and foodborne illness.

Knowledge of laws

In short, if you are a licensee/operator looking to expand food production outside of the state where you are currently licensed, you need to hire competent counsel who is familiar not only with the language of the regulations, but also with how those regulations are actively interpreted by that state’s regulatory body. Rules are words, but how those rules are applied and interpreted in real life is an entirely different matter. You need to know both to qualify in any recreation state.

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