In Focus: What Is Legal Under New Recreational Marijuana Laws?


Marijuana ballot initiatives thrived in the 2016 election with eight states opting to loosen their existing laws—four of which legalized recreational use for adults age 21 and older. What is now permissible under those laws?

Although some aspects are still up in the air, here's what's known so far:


Recreational use on private property became legal in California immediately after the election, but there are still significant limitations. There's no system in place to sell or purchase recreational marijuana—which means that for now it has to be shared free-of-charge by someone who legally grew or obtained it.

The licensing system for recreational sales is supposed to be in place by Jan. 1, 2018, but state lawmakers have said it may take longer. State agencies are still developing regulations for licensing and taxing marijuana sales, and an extensive study of the new industry's environmental impact is required. (Los Angeles Times)


Maine's law—which narrowly passed by 50.3 percent of the vote—went into effect on Jan. 30. Adults can now possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana, but retail sale has been delayed until February 2018. Some Maine towns decided to become "dry towns" to keep out retail sales and social clubs altogether. (CNN)


Beginning on Dec. 15, 2016, Massachusetts residents could grow up to 12 plants and possess up to 10 ounces of marijuana in their homes. Retail sales are set to begin in July 2018, but Sen. Jason M. Lewis has proposed legislation that would delay retail sales and limit residents to growing six plants and possessing two ounces in their homes. (Boston Globe)


Nevada's law took effect on Jan. 1, making it legal to use marijuana on private property, but it will still be illegal to sell until recreational dispensaries are up and running.

"The ballot initiative gives us until January 2018, but we're aiming to have regulations in place that allow us to license those retail stores by this summer," said Deonne Contine, the Department of Taxation's executive director. (

Other States

Adults age 21 and older can also light up in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia. (Business Insider)

Workplace Rules

Employers and workers alike should note that even though recreational use is permitted in these states, being under the influence or in possession of marijuana in the workplace can still be disciplined.

State laws vary as to the extent employees can be disciplined for off-duty medical or recreational use, but federal law still bans all use of the Schedule I drug.

Related SHRM Online articles:

More States Legalize Recreational and Medical Marijuana, SHRM Online State & Local Resources, November 2016

Will Trump's Administration Enforce Marijuana Laws?, SHRM Online Employment Law, January 2017

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