Dad, How Old Do I Have to Be to Smoke Pot?

Logo for Legal Crap My Kids Ask MeLegally, that is. This question came about over dinner as we talked about a kid at Max’s school who had been expelled for having marijuana in her locker, or so Max had heard. Being a fairly sophisticated 13-year-old, Max didn’t really understand the big deal about pot, especially when you compare it to alcohol. He said this as I was downing my Bell’s Two Hearted during a local Thai restaurant’s happy hour. He then asked “how old do I have to be before I can smoke pot legally?” He already vaguely knew some states had legalized the possession of marijuana, at least in small amounts.

We weren’t sure if the age would be 18 or 21, though we thought it would be a bit strange if it was 18, an age when you still could not legally down a beer. Plus, at 18, it would allow some kids in high school to burn one, at least in private. Not that some don’t already do that, but we’re talking legally smoking weed.

The answer is 21, at least in the two states that have recently decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Colorado and Washington passed initiatives in 2012 that are now in effect and allow persons 21 years of age or older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana, with varying penalties for possessing greater amounts.

Washington’s law prohibits public use or possession of small amounts (up to one ounce) of marijuana, with a civil penalty of $100, apparently for toking up in public. Other provisions in Washington prohibit the sale or distribution of any amount, except as regulated through validly licensed marijuana retailers selling less than one ounce. Washington has increased penalties for selling it kids 18 or under, though there appears to be no increased penalty for the unlicensed sale to a 19-year-old.

For what it’s worth, an ounce of marijuana is roughly the equivalent of 60 joints.

Colorado’s constitutional amendment is similar to Washington’s, with no penalty for possessing up to one ounce of marijuana and no penalty for “transferring” up to one ounce to another person, without money being exchanged. It’s a petty offense to use or possess up to two ounces of marijuana in public. That is, consumption must be in private.

If you are 21 years of age or older, you can also legally cultivate up to six marijuana plants in Colorado, so long as only three of them are mature.

So, 21, for the two states that have decriminalized the possession of a small amount of marijuana.

Gregory Luce is the editor of Bitter Lawyer. He creates stuff and writes various columns, including Legal Crap My Kids Ask Me, Ask a Futurist, and Postcards from Lawyers.

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