SPECIAL REPORT: Legal Marijuana

While it may cost you your job, from a criminal standpoint, the implications are more limited.
While it may cost you your job, from a criminal standpoint, the implications are more limited.

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT/WSFX) - It's a question that we've been hearing more and more in our newsroom. Now that marijuana is legal in Colorado, can North Carolinians get in trouble for smoking it if they are there on vacation?

Experts estimate that Colorado venders have been selling about a million dollars worth of pot a day since it became legal there on January 1, 2014. Over half of the sales are to out-of-state visitors.

The thriving demand has prompted some entrepreneurs to launch pot tourism companies with marijuana themed tours and packages marketed to people drawn to the state by legalized marijuana. It's also prompted attorneys across the country to buff up on the legal ramifications for people visiting Colorado.

Wilmington attorney Benton Toups frequently represents employers in disputes with their employees. He says pot may now be legal in Colorado, but if you want to keep your job you should still think twice before smoking it.

"Employers can terminate employees for a good reason, a bad reason, or no reason at all," Toups said. "There are certainly exceptions to that rule, the most notable being on the basis of race, sex and other protected categories. Use of marijuana, even if it is legal use at the time the marijuana was used, is not going to be one of those exceptions."

We posted a message on our Facebook page, asking if any of our viewers were planning to visit Colorado to take advantage of the new law legalizing marijuana. 18 thousand people checked out that post, and more than 100 posted comments, many saying they'd love to visit Colorado to smoke pot.

Still, we couldn't get a single one of them to talk to us on camera. It may be legal in Colorado, but people seem to feel that publicly admitting to smoking pot is still too risky here at home.

You may be wondering how long evidence of pot will stay in your system after leaving Colorado. It's not an exact science. Researchers say if you only smoked marijuana one time, the THC should be out of your urine within a week, but a heavy user may test positive for a month, or even longer.

While it may cost you your job, from a criminal standpoint, the implications are more limited. Still, District Attorney Ben David says people who are being monitored by the courts could still run into trouble.

"Even if something was legal somewhere else, if it would violate your probation for instance to be in possession of drugs or to have them in your system at the time of testing, the fact that you were consuming them legally somewhere else is of no moment," David said. "You would still be in violation under North Carolina law."

It's yet to be seen how much this will actually come up in North Carolina courts, but officials here say they are fully prepared to deal with the "Colorado defense" if the need arises.

"We have heard just about every excuse in the book on that. Secondary smoke, or the person was eating a poppy seed bagels and that's why their drug test was thrown off, it doesn't work," David told us.

While in Colorado, there are a few things you'll need to do to stay on the right side of the new marijuana law. Michael Elliott, the Executive Director of the Marijuana Industry Group in Denver gave us this list:

  • Don't drive after smoking it.
  • Don't consume it publicly.
  • Don't sell it to anyone else.
  • Don't give it to anyone under the age of 21.
  • Don't take marijuana out of the state when you leave.

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