State-by-state, marijuana laws and prosecution range from mild to draconian. While you’re traveling to see loved ones this holiday season, please #StayVigilant if you’re crossing state lines!

The legalization of marijuana has led to some interesting legal developments. Some states are taking a common sense approach to marijuana use, some pass laws with a lot of strange loopholes, while others bury their heads in the sand and chant “reefer madness.”

Everyone knows the police state will be out in full force for the holidays, so we’ve highlighted some marijuana laws to keep in mind in Colorado, Washington D.C., and South Dakota.


First, we bring you good news. When it comes to driving impaired, Colorado residents just don’t think that being over the legal limit for cannabis is the same as being over the legal limit for alcohol.

In Colorado, prosecutors are having a tough time getting convictions from juries for those who have been arrested for driving under the influence of marijuana.

After the recreational use of cannabis was legalized, Colorado authorities established a 5 ng/ml blood-THC limit for driving under the influence (this is the same ratio in Washington state).

However, since there is no data to support a specific, universal number for impairment, law enforcement truly picked an arbitrary number…which in turn has become part of the problem once someone goes before a jury for driving under the influence of marijuana.

The first study to analyze the impact of marijuana on driving was conducted in June 2015 by the University of Iowa. The study was sponsored by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, National Institute of Drug Abuse, and the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

As expected, there was impairment in all areas when alcohol and cannabis were mixed. However, when cannabis itself was taken in moderate amounts, there was no significant driving impairment.

Here’s what researchers at the University of Iowa determined:

Once in the simulator—a 1996 Malibu sedan mounted in a 24-feet diameter dome—the drivers were assessed on weaving within the lane, how often the car left the lane, and the speed of the weaving. Drivers with only alcohol in their systems showed impairment in all three areas while those strictly under the influence of vaporized cannabis only demonstrated problems weaving within the lane.

Drivers with blood concentrations of 13.1 ug/L THC, or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, the active ingredient in marijuana, showed increased weaving that was similar to those with a .08 breath alcohol concentration, the legal limit in most states. The legal limit for THC in Washington and Colorado is 5 ug/L, the same amount other states have considered.

The study also found that analyzing a driver’s oral fluids can detect recent use of marijuana but is not a reliable measure of impairment.

“Everyone wants a Breathalyzer which works for alcohol because alcohol is metabolized in the lungs,” says Andrew Spurgin, a postdoctoral research fellow with the UI College of Pharmacy. “But for cannabis this isn't as simple due to THC's metabolic and chemical properties.”

These factors are contributing to a growing number of statewide cases in which juries have acquitted marijuana users of driving under the influence of marijuana, even when testing shows these people are over the 5 ng/ml limit.

Denver’s local CBS News station reports that completely sober jurors attempted to do the roadside sobriety tests for marijuana use and some actually failed. This led them to conclude that drivers – although high – aren’t necessarily impaired.

Conclusion: Marijuana is fully legal in Colorado, but it’s never a good idea to drive under the influence of any substance. However, if you do get stopped, you might have a shot of beating a DUI for marijuana.


Even more good news: after one full year of legalizing marijuana, arrests for pot possession have dropped to single digits!

TheWashington City Paper  reports that there have only been seven arrests for marijuana possession in 2015. This is a staggering 99.2 percent drop in marijuana arrests since the previous year (there were 895 arrests in 2014).

However, please keep in mind: Despite the uncommonly small number of pot arrests in D.C., public consumption of marijuana is still considered illegal.

The law is written for home grown and home use only.

You cannot legally sell or purchase any form of marijuana in D.C.

You cannot legally ingest any form of marijuana outside of your home.

You cannot possess more than two ounces of marijuana or operate a vehicle or boat under the influence of marijuana.

Watch this video for a recap of DC's complicated marijuana law known as Initiative 71:

Conclusion: Proceed with caution. Hotels do not fall under the “home use” category. Practice safe marijuana use and lock the doors at whatever D.C. residence you’re in before you smoke up as it is illegal to smoke outside. If your D.C. friend/family member is renting from a landlord or has a Home Owners Association, they have the final word on if it is legal to smoke in that home. 

SOUTH DAKOTA (The “bah, humbug!” state)

In South Dakota, it is illegal to ingest or possess marijuana; it is also illegal to have ingested it elsewhere – even if you legally ingested it weeks earlier.

Yes, you read that correctly.

Here’s a scenario to illustrate what this ridiculous law is actually implying:

Let’s just say you ingested marijuana legally in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington State, or Washington, DC and then you hop on a plane to South Dakota to visit family. You rent a car, and get pulled over for any number of reasons. If after peeing in a cup, police find marijuana is in your system, you’re going to jail for up to 365 days and/or pay a $2,000 fine.

According to the state’s Codified Laws Chapter 22-42-15, it is a Class 1 misdemeanor to ingest a “substance, except alcoholic beverages, for the purpose of becoming intoxicated,” regardless of the “venue for violation.” This is called “internal possession” of marijuana.

Since marijuana can stay in a person’s system for an estimated 4 to 67 days, South Dakota can punish someone to the full extent of the law for doing something that is 100 percent legal in another state.

Going back to our scenario, under state law, if you are pulled over, police can’t force you to pee in a cup. Police need “voluntary consent” or your urine test can be challenged in court. However, they do have strong methods of coercion, and they are not above threatening people to get a “voluntary consent.”

"I defend a lot of drug cases,"said Huron, South Dakota attorney Ron Volesky, "and I've defended several of these urine sample cases, but I haven't yet seen an instance where we could challenge a court order because everyone has voluntarily consented."

“As a practical matter, when the police pick someone up they say, 'Look, we can do it the hard way or the easy way; you can voluntarily consent because we have probable cause, or we can wake up the judge, have him sign an order, and take you down and have you catheterized.' They basically threaten you," said Volesky.

Essentially, if you’re an out of state driver and you get pulled over by police in South Dakota, they may force you to “voluntarily” take a urine test for marijuana use.

The only loophole in the “internal possession” law is if the marijuana in your system was “prescribed by a practitioner of the medical arts lawfully practicing within the scope of the practitioner’s practice.”

Therefore, medical marijuana users are off the hook in South Dakota if they travel with their state issued medical marijuana card and can prove they were prescribed the marijuana in their system.

Legal recreational pot smokers in in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington state, and Washington, DC: you’ve been warned!

CONCLUSION: Play it safe. Tell whoever lives in South Dakota you’ll visit once this law is revoked.

It's tough to keep up with all the ins and outs of each state's marijuana laws. If you live in a state where you can legally use marijuana, perhaps the best (and safest) strategy is hosting the holiday festivities at your house and having the family come to you. There are lots of cook books that specialize in cannabis cuisine - which could also lead to some fairly entertaining dinner conversations! 

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ora Media, LLC its affiliates, or its employees.

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