Marijuana laws changing, causing confusion

Monday, January 5, 2015

PLYMOUTH CO. -- With recent changes in marijuana laws, people in several states are voicing confusion over enforcement if they cross state lines with any form of the plant.

States like Colorado have garnered national media attention for legalizing the recreational usage of marijuana.

Le Mars Chief of Police Stu Dekkenga said he has not seen an increase of marijuana traffic through the city since Colorado legalized marijuana.

(Photo contributed) Recent legislation has changed the legality of marijuana in several states. In 23 states, usage of marijuana is legal in some form. This includes four states that have legalized it for recreational use. Other states have made usage of the plant only legal for medicinal purposes.

However, Dekkenga said he has dealt with at least one person from Colorado who questioned the harshness of criminal penalties associated with possession of marijuana in Iowa.

These types of questions may be caused by states, including Iowa, making more subtle changes to marijuana laws, compared to the changes made in states like Colorado.

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad signed the medical cannabidiol act into law on May 30 of last year.

The law is meant to give patients suffering from extreme forms of epilepsy a way to treat their condition by using a chemical called cannabidiol, or CBD.

CBD is a non-psychoactive chemical found in marijuana.

Iowa law allows each patient to possess up to 32 ounces, or an estimated six-month supply, of CBD oil.

What the law does not allow, is to purchase CBD oil within state borders.

The closest place a Plymouth County patient could purchase CBD oil is Colorado.

That means the patient would have to drive the oil back through a state where the medicine may not be legal.

These less publicized changes to legislation have many people confused about what is legal to have while crossing into another state.

Currently, 23 states and the District of Columbia have laws legalizing marijuana in some form.

States such as Colorado, Washington, Alaska and Oregon have all legalized marijuana for recreational use.

While other states have only legalized it for medicinal purposes.

Another 14 states have simply decriminalized possession of marijuana.

This typically means a person found with marijuana will be ticketed for the offense but will not receive prison time or a criminal record.

Although Nebraska is among the states to have decriminalized marijuana possession, the state still accounts for a large amount of possession arrests, according to a study done by the American Civil Liberties Union, or ACLU.

The ACLU examined marijuana possession arrest rates for all 50 states.

According to the study, Nebraska ranks third for the most marijuana possession arrests, per 100,000 residents, in the nation, despite decriminalizing possession in the 1970s.

It is this type of inconsistency that leads to confusion, according to Aaron Schoeneman, executive director of The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws in Iowa.

Schoeneman said he is happy with the legislation Iowa passed for CBD oil, but is frustrated with the way the state, and other states, have enacted laws.

"It (the CBD act) sends parents over state lines and that's illegal. Even though marijuana is technically decriminalized in Nebraska they enforce the federal law and ignore their own state law," Schoeneman said.

The difference between federal laws and state laws, as they pertain to marijuana possession, has been another source of confusion, according to Schoeneman.

Even if a state legalizes marijuana usage, in any form, federal laws still lists marijuana as a controlled substance.

This means a person can be prosecuted under federal law, even in a state that has legalized the plant's usage.

By prosecuting an Iowan who has gone to Colorado to purchase CBD oil under federal law, instead of Nebraska state law, the state is able to charge that person with a felony.

If convicted, that person could face up to five years in prison and $250,000 in fines.

This makes it impossible for patients or parents of patients that require CBD oil to obtain it safely, according to Schoeneman.

With several states adjusting their marijuana laws during each election cycle, confusion over implementation and overall changes is to be expected.

To avoid harsh penalties and criminal prosecution people can find a breakdown of individual state laws at http://norml.org/laws/.

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