Recreational marijuana in California, paid family leave among 2018's new laws

by Pete Williams /  / Updated 
Image: Russell Diercks smokes a half marijuana and tobacco joint inside of Frankie Sports Bar and Grill in Olympia
A man smokes a joint.Nick Adams / Reuters file

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WASHINGTON — The new year brings a host of state laws that take effect starting Monday, from making marijuana more accessible to requiring paid family leave.

Retail sales of marijuana for recreational use are now legal in California. Adults over 21 in the nation's most populous state can buy it in cities that agree to make it available.

The rules are strict. The marijuana must be sold in sealed, child-resistant packages. Shops must close by 10 p.m. And the supply chain will be more heavily regulated than under previous laws allowing the sale of medical marijuana.

At this early stage, "roll out is slow, and only a handful of cities are participating," says Paul Armentano of the pro-marijuana group NORML. The early joiners are Los Angeles, San Francisco, Berkeley and San Jose.

Some advocates of the new law estimate that taxes on marijuana sales could eventually bring California as much as $1 billion a year.

Starting Monday, Oregon bans the sale of cigarettes to anyone under 21, including e-cigarettes, known as vapes. It's the fourth state to adopt such a restriction. Maine will become the fifth in July. California, Hawaii and New Jersey already have similar prohibitions.

A new law in Tennessee makes it illegal to drive through a school zone while holding a cellphone. That includes texting, reading or talking. Drivers under 18 can't use the phone at all in school zones, even with hands-free devices.

New York begins enforcing the nation's most comprehensive state law requiring employers to give paid family leave, eventually up to 12 weeks a year when the law is fully phased in. The state agency responsible for administering the provision says leave is available "to bond with a new child, care for a loved one with a serious health condition, or help relieve family pressures when someone is called to active military service."

Some businesses welcome the move. "Families are important, and being able to care for loved ones is essential," says David Bolotsky, CEO of Uncommon Goods, a Brooklyn catalog and online retailer. "Providing our workers with the ability to balance their personal needs with their work requirements is in our business interest as well."

But the Business Council of New York State opposed the law, arguing that it will be a hardship for small companies. "If it's a key person or a very important member of the staff, they're required to permit them to take this leave," said Heather Briccetti, the group's president.

In Vermont, the boss can no longer demand user names or passwords to get into the social media accounts of employees or job applicants. More than half the states now have similar privacy laws.

Gun owners in California, starting Monday, can't get ammunition through the mail. They must buy it in person at a licensed dealer. It's the first step toward eventually requiring a background check, similar to the one for gun sales.

Nationwide, America's two million federal workers could pay the tab for their New Year's celebrations with a salary increase taking effect Monday. The 1.9 percent raise works out to an average of about $140 a month.

And on the Las Vegas strip, restaurants won't be able to serve shark fin soup to New Year's revelers. As of Monday, it's illegal in Nevada.

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