How to Smoke Legal Pot in America: A State-by State Guide - Rolling Stone
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American High: State-by-State Guide to Legal Pot

Marijuana is recreationally legal in eight states, from Oregon to Massachusetts – but what does that mean for visitors who want to partake?

While Congress has largely refused to roll back, or even debate, the federal prohibition on pot, local voters across the U.S. have cast ballots to end the war on marijuana. But the nation’s patchwork of pot laws can be confusing – even in the states where it’s allowed – so here’s a blueprint of what you can and can’t do in the eight states (plus D.C.) where weed’s been legalized for recreational use.

In spite of the best efforts of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, marijuana tourism is booming across the U.S. and policy makers are now trying to figure out the will of their voters. “While politicians are behind voters, and about half the states don’t have voter initiative processes so you’ve got to rely on the legislatures,” says Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies for Marijuana Policy Project. “They’re still catching up,”

With many puritanical lawmakers trying to make their imprint on the nation’s pot policy, we don’t want anyone to hit a snag and have some random cop toss you in the back of her squad car over a little – or even a lot of – greenery. So here are the rules of the road:

Colorado State Capitol Building

Colorado was ahead of the pack when it came to setting up its recreational pot law, which is in part because there was already a medical marijuana culture that had taken root in the state. “One of the biggest differences between the states is whether or not there was a medical marijuana distribution system in place before the adult use law passed,” O’Keefe says.

Before you hit the slopes or enjoy the rugged scenery, stop by one of the state’s many dispensaries – but make sure to do it when you have the chance, or you may be left on the top of a mountain without a hit. That’s cause the state’s legalization law left it up to each locale to decide for themselves if they want weed shops, and even though Colorado’s generally cool, many of its lawmakers are pretty lame and restrictive.

So the key is just to book a cheaper flight into Denver. If you’re 21 or older, you can basically find anything you want in Denver for whatever price you can afford. So you want an upper? They’ve got you covered. Downer before bed? Done. A gentle edible to make you feel one with the sunset? Any dispensary has a helpful “bud-tender” on hand to give you just what you need.

Because you can’t legally smoke or vape outside in Colorado – which has been a huge debate – and many hotels don’t allow toking in your room, the edible culture has become strong in the state. But beware, those edibles take a bit to kick in and can often catch the unassuming off guard and give you more of a paranoid fright than the gentle high you were chasing.

But if inhalation is your thing, don’t worry – there’s options. Several marijuana bus and limo tours exist throughout the state, which allow you to smoke inside the vehicles as they take you on scenic rides around town. And though the state’s lawmakers have presently shelved plans to allow marijuana clubs, about 30 private clubs exist and many sell day passes. Watch out, though – these are in a legal grey area so the authorities may stop by unannounced.

Like in Colorado, Oregon’s marijuana law left it up to individual counties and towns to decide for themselves if they want weed sold like alcohol – or if they don’t. And while the counties closer to the coast tend to be the progressive stereotypes reinforced when binging Portlandia, the rest of the state is quite rural, conservative and even a little backwoodsy. In fact, the state is almost split in the middle – with the 20 counties mostly to the west allowing legal pot sales, while the 16 counties mostly in the eastern part of the state all prohibiting greenery.

Consuming legally is tough – it’s against the law to smoke or even partake in edibles in public places, though some hotels along the coast will let you toke. And if you’re going to head into the woods for a weekend, make sure you don’t have more than an ounce on you because it’s illegal to possess any more than that in public (though you can cultivate up to eight ounces on your property). And beware if you’re planning to get in touch with nature at one of the state’s gorgeous national parks, because it’s still illegal to get high on federal lands.

Washington State
Voters and lawmakers here were fine with medical marijuana, but when voters made recreational weed legal things got wacky. “In Washington is was kind of a mess, because there you had medical marijuana dispensaries but they were at best in a legal grey area because a court had ruled, essentially, they were illegal,” O’Keefe tells Rolling Stone. “So you had, side by side, a completely new regulatory system for adult use which was much stricter, with testing and lots of restrictions on where they can be located.”

Don’t think about busting out your weed in public in Washington State or it’s a fine. Smoke in your car? Fine. Weed on your car seat and not your trunk? Fine. Smoke in a park? Fine. Sure those restrictions apply to most all of the states that have legalized recreational weed, but Washington is a different beast. While you can brew your own beer here, you can’t legally grow your own weed, unless you have a medical card. Welcome to pot’s official nanny state, where restrictive marijuana laws allow you to have just one ounce in private, though state-controlled dispensaries are popping up all over the more progressive areas. Even getting here wasn’t easy.

But in the past year or so they rolled the medical dispensaries into the regulatory system for recreational stores, which forced those stores to either get a new license or be shuttered – which, needless to say, pissed off a lot of loyal medicinal customers.

The Initiative to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol

The Pine Tree State may soon need to be renamed after a slim majority of voters – fewer than 3,000 – passed a law allowing those other green trees to be regulated like booze and to allow pot clubs, which are basically bars with bongs. But the legislature seems to be taking its sweet time setting up a regulatory regime for weed. In fact, the only thing the legislature and Republican Governor Paul LePage have been able to agree on was raising the legal age to toke from 18 years old, which voters had approved, to 21.

With no regulatory regime in place and lawmakers taking their sweet time in passing one, it’s still illegal to sell weed, because no one can get a state-approved license if the state doesn’t even have licenses to approve. Some clever retailers are trying to get around that by baking marijuana infused goodies and then giving them away for “free,” though donations are accepted (and it seems, encouraged).

Portland is its own little progressive island in the slice of heaven that is Maine. People there have been enjoying legal recreational weed since back in 2013 – earning it the title of the East Coast’s first city to legalize greenery. Want another fun fact? At 3.8 percent, Maine is tied with California for the most citizens with medical marijuana cards, according to the Marijuana Policy Project. Little ole rustic Maine competing with big ass progressive California – you go girl!

You can now posses weed legally in the Golden State but you can’t smoke it in public, which may not seem like news because everyone in California who wanted has been able to smoke weed legally since 1996, when it became the first state in the nation to practically allow medical marijuana.

But now that it’s legal it should be even easier to score weed, right? Not so fast. The legislature is taking its time setting up a regulatory system for recreational pot dispensaries – with a target date of 2018. That means you can’t get arrested by state and local cops for having up to an ounce of weed, but if you sell any amount you can still get smacked with a $500 fine, though you can give away or receive up to 28.5 grams.

The state’s legal medical dispensaries also hit a snag of late: Pesticides. California didn’t have a law in place to regulate – as in, prohibit – the use of pesticides in medical marijuana and some patients had to go to the emergency room in February after ingesting pesticide-laced greenery. Those new regulations are expected to be rolled into the recreational regulatory bill next year as well.


Northeasterners just seem to live at a different pace than the rest of us. So while it’s been legal to smoke and possess up to an ounce of weed since last December, it remains illegal to sell or buy weed. The legislature was expected to set up its regulatory system this year with a start date for pot shops to open in January 2018. But politics happened and anti-pot lawmakers voted to move the date back six months – and Republican Governor Charlie Baker signed the bill – so lawmakers now have until at least July 1st, 2018 to set up a regulatory system, though even that could get pushed back, too. Lucky for residents there’s still medical marijuana dispensaries in some parts of the state, though that does little for you pot tourists out there. 

If the home of Sin City can’t figure out how to set up a legalized marijuana regime then our nation’s green experiment may as well be over. Luckily, legislators from the home of legalized prostitution and gambling are working to quickly set up regulations to govern the state’s newest legal pastime.

Since their state resolution passed last November, you can legally possess up to an ounce of the goods, but if you get caught with even a gram more than that you can get hit with up to a $600 fine. You also can’t smoke in public – even on the Vegas strip where one would think everything that felt good was legal.

But there’s a chance this could all change soon. Lawmakers here are hoping to follow Colorado’s example and jump head-first into legalization – possibly getting their recreational system of licensing and taxation up as early as July. 

It’s hard living in America’s rugged frontier, and that’s especially the case for stoners, even though dispensaries have been open since 2015. Earlier this year, many of the state’s dispensaries couldn’t get enough marijuana to satiate the needs of their clientele – causing some to sell out of their product within hours of opening. Know why? Because legalizing weed doesn’t actually grow weed – that takes time.

While you can’t legally smoke in public, the good news is that you can possess up to an ounce with no fear of penalty, and if you have property in the state, you can keep up to four ounces at home. But if you get caught with any more than an ounce you can get smacked with a $10,000 fine and a year in the slammer. And if you walk within 500 ft. of a school or recreational center with even a loose nug in your pocket they can slap you with a $50,000 fine and five years behind bars. So keep cool and keep your weed away from the kids.  

Washington, D.C.
Citizens of Washington, D.C. may not have a vote in Congress, but they do have a say on their own local issues. With so many young black men incarcerated for possessing even small amounts of weed, in 2015, the city overwhelmingly voted to legalize marijuana outright for anyone of the legal drinking age – including many older African Americans who oppose legalized pot but just want their kids and grandkids out of jail.

But Congress gets the final word on the federal city and Republicans voted to block the council from setting up a regulatory regime for marijuana. Because only medicinal marijuana shops can legally sell weed, most citizens still have to score it on the black market. Practically, that congressional prohibition means adult-use marijuana is merely decriminalized in D.C.

That means you can only smoke in your house and grow up to six plants. But watch out – you could get smacked with a $1,000 fine and six month prison sentence if you get caught with more than two ounces. Though many people smoke outside, if you get caught smoking in public, you could face up to 60 days in prison and a $500 fine. (Don’t try it on the National Mall, though, as that’s federal property and could mean real trouble.) And though you can’t sell weed, you can legally give or receive up to an ounce.

See how celebrities are getting in on the THC craze. Watch here.


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