Lawyer Up: How to Not Get Busted This 420
Celebrate 420 without a “legal hangover” thanks to our cannabis law columnist.
Published on April 20, 2017

Disclaimer: This column is written for educational purposes only. It does not provide specific legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. This column should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed attorney in your state.

The greatest cannabis holiday of the year is upon us, and with legal access in 28 states and DC there’s never been a better time to celebrate. So how can you celebrate to the fullest without getting into trouble with the law? Whether you’re a first-time visitor in a legal state or generally unsure of what police will punish, here are a few things to consider so you can enjoy the day worry-free, courtesy of MERRY JANE’s anonymous and expert legal columnist.

Generally, smoking or otherwise consuming cannabis in public is illegal even in states that allow recreational use. However, marijuana has largely been decriminalized in many states with medical and/or recreational laws. Where public consumption used to be a misdemeanor or even a felony that carried the potential of prison time and hefty fines, you’ll now face only a minor penalty.

For example, in California you’ll get a $100 ticket for smoking marijuana in public and a $250 ticket where tobacco smoking is prohibited. Similarly, Colorado authorities may issue a $100 ticket for lighting up in public. Nevada is a bit stricter, with a $600 fine.

Smoking publicly in states that are not cannabis-friendly could lead to much harsher consequences. For example, AG Jeff Session’s home state of Alabama is one of the worst states to get caught using cannabis. Possession or public consumption of any amount of marijuana (even a single celebratory joint) could land you a fine of up to $6000 and one year in prison. Yikes!

To find out the legal limits in your state, check out NORML’s database of state-by-state information.

Open Consumption at 420 Events

If you’re planning to attend one of the many 420 events across the country this week like the SoCal Cannabis Cup, you may be allowed to smoke openly without issue. In fact, some events will even allow you to bring legal limits of cannabis and smoking accessories with you.

Be sure to double-check the event rules, as they’ll typically dictate whether you can smoke or consume edibles on the premise. Some events allow vendors to sell cannabis products that can be consumed on-site — lucky you!

It’s also a good idea to check for any last-minute updates to event rules. The folks behind last month’s Cannabis Cup in Las Vegas were forced to make adjustments in the eleventh hour after a Las Vegas-based U.S. Attorney threatened to shut the event down.

The U.S. Attorney reminded event organizers that possession and use of marijuana is still illegal under federal law. In response to the threat of federal intervention, event organizers scrapped plans to allow on-site consumption, making it the first “dry” Cannabis Cup.

If you plan to attend a 420 event from out of town, please don’t attempt to bring any party favors home with you — especially if you live in a non-legal state. Penalties for possession, especially if caught traveling across state lines, can be severe and it’s not worth the headache.

Disappointment in Denver

Denver residents’ hopes for pot clubs were met with disappointment just a week before this year’s nation-wide 420 celebrations. Plans were in the works to make Colorado the first state to legalize Amsterdam-style coffee shops where patrons could bring their own cannabis and consume it openly.

There was a lot of excitement around the idea that public cannabis use would finally be treated similarly to alcohol. Unfortunately, those plans were put on hold due to uncertainty surrounding the Trump Administration’s precarious stance towards legal marijuana.

Organizing a Private 420 Party

Planning to hold your own private celebration? Your best bet is to have the party at your home or a friend’s place, where smoking openly won’t draw unwanted attention.

If you live in a pot-friendly state like California or Washington, a growing number of venues will allow you to consume cannabis at a privately-organized event. Some dispensaries allow on-site medicating in their lounges and many are holding events in honor of 420. It’s also easier than ever to find cannabis lounges and tours near you.

Have a particular location in mind? Call the venue and ask about its cannabis policy. You may be surprised to learn that some venue owners will be willing to work with you. With a little research to cover your bases, you’ll be able to relax and enjoy your celebratory tokes to the fullest. Happy 420!

~ Cannabiz Confidante 

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Cannabiz Confidante
Cannabiz Confidante is a lawyer and cannabis business consultant based in Southern California. When she’s not lawyering or writing, you can find her painting and practicing yoga. Follow her on Twitter @CannaConfidante.
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