Slippery Slope. A California Ski Resort Gets Caught Between State and Federal Marijuana Laws

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If the patchwork of cannabis laws across the United States seems confusing for those in the cannabis industry, it’s even more perplexing for consumers who aren’t paying as much attention. 

A recent case at a California ski resort illustrates the complexity of this issue. 

China Peak Mountain Resort, located about 70 miles northwest of Fresno, recently found itself between a rock and hard patch of ice because of its cannabis consumption policy. The resort is located in California, which allows recreational and medical marijuana, but operates entirely within federal lands. Herein lies the problem: California considers cannabis legal, but the federal government still considers it an illegal Schedule I drug on par with cocaine and heroin.

RELATED: Is California’s Cannabis Industry on the Brink of Collapse?

Instagram controversy

The controversy began with an Instagram story posted before the holidays. Attempting to clear up confusion about its cannabis policy, the resort posted: “Use is illegal at our resort, as we are 100 percent on United States Forest Service federal land and must operate by their federal rules.”

The resort said it would place staff in parking lots and on lifts to ensure everyone obeyed the rules. They also said those caught using cannabis would be removed from the resort for the day, adding that if the patron showed “any resistance,” they would lose both their current season pass and the ability to purchase one for 2022-2023.

The resort said complaints from patrons fueled the post and the changes, writing they would be “cracking down” on marijuana users. 

“Thank you for understanding,” the post concluded.

It didn’t go over so well.

Angry response

After the Instagram story, the resort received “a number of comments,” according to the Fresno Bee.

The next day, resort owner Tim Cohee somewhat softened the stance on the company’s Facebook page, writing that some people had supported the resort’s stance while others were “taking the other position.”

Cohee expressed his frustration at being put in an awkward position by contradictory cannabis laws, a stance that echoes the thoughts of many other business owners. “We are not enforcement officers, nor do we want to be, ” he wrote. “We don’t have the staff nor the time. Many of our guests find the smell of weed offensive, either to themselves or to their families or friends. Here is our ask. Please respect all our customers, including those who are offended by the smell of marijuana. For those who smoke, please do so away from the resort.”

Finding that kind of compromise continues to be an issue in many parts of the United States.

RELATED: California Develops Standardized Marijuana Testing

This will keep happening until Congress acts

While what happened at China Peak is just a small story about one resort trying to navigate marijuana laws, it’s not unprecedented. States with legal marijuana have customers flood in from other states – they technically are breaking their state’s laws if they bring weed back over the state border.

Also, national parks have become an issue for both cannabis users and park personnel who have to enforce federal laws. Park officials deal with people confused about cannabis laws frequently. Many have medical marijuana cards from their home state. Others come from states that have legalized adult-use weed. Many are even visiting a park in their home state. It makes no difference in the eyes of federal law. 

Wyoming criminal defense attorney Alex Freeburg told Leafly in the summer of 2021 that he had six cases where people possessed cannabis in national parks in the first half of the year alone. Wyoming law does not legalize recreational or medical marijuana. 

“You might be thinking that law enforcement, the prosecutors, and the Courts will be understanding of your medical condition, Freeburg wrote on his website: “But in my experience, they generally are not going to give you a break because you have a medical marijuana card. They will enforce the law as written. Until the law changes, expect to be zealously prosecuted.”

Given that attitude in Wyoming and many other places, people and business owners should read up on local laws and understand the difference between municipal, state, and federal law when it comes to cannabis. Until the U.S. Congress legalizes weed at the federal level – or all 50 states legalize it – ignorance of the law will not be an excuse. 

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