July 4, 2022

Medical marijuana is authorized in 37 states however nonetheless prohibited by federal statute.

Olena Ruban

Although marijuana is authorized for medicinal functions in 37 states and Washington, DC — and recreationally in 18 — the use, possession or sale of hashish stays prohibited by federal statute. 

That’s created a major disconnect that an growing variety of lawmakers are desirous to reconcile: In a letter final month, Senate Majority Chief Charles Schumer, Senate Finance Committee Chair Sen. Ron Wyden and Sen. Cory Booker invited their colleagues to assist draft laws that will finish the federal ban and elevate state-sanctioned dispensaries out of authorized limbo. 

Authorized US hashish gross sales hit almost $15 billion in 2021 and are heading in the right direction to surpass $25 billion throughout the subsequent three years. In 2021 alone, laws totally legalizing the leisure use of pot handed in Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, New Mexico and Virginia — the primary Southern state to take action. On Tuesday, New Jersey started accepting functions to open dispensaries, and Gov. Phil Murphy mentioned the primary retailers could possibly be open by this summer season.

Right here’s what to learn about which states have legalized marijuana, the standing of legalization efforts on the federal stage and the way Individuals really feel about authorized weed.

What does federal legislation say about marijuana?

Underneath the Managed Substances Act of 1970, the Drug Enforcement Company nonetheless classifies hashish — also referred to as marijuana, weed, pot and different phrases — as a Schedule I drug, “with no at present accepted medical use and a excessive potential for abuse.” Rising, possessing or distributing marijuana is a violation of federal drug legal guidelines. (Different Schedule I medicine embody heroin and LSD, whereas cocaine is listed as a Schedule II drug.)

In 2013, President Barack Obama directed the Justice Division to replace federal marijuana enforcement insurance policies to defer to state authorities in jurisdictions that had legalized marijuana, “based mostly on assurances that these states will impose an appropriately strict regulatory system.”

Referred to as the Cole Memorandum, this steerage was rescinded in 2018 by Jeff Periods, lawyer basic beneath President Donald Trump.

Marijuana legalization advocates have inspired President Joe Biden to direct present US Legal professional Normal Merrick Garland to reinstate the Cole memorandum.

Thirty-seven states in all have legalized marijuana for medicinal functions.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Pictures

Which states have legalized medical marijuana?

As of February, 37 states have legalized the medical use of hashish: Alaska, Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and West Virginia.

As well as, the District of Columbia and the territories of Puerto Rico, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and the US Virgin Islands have all legalized medical marijuana.

Every jurisdiction has its personal standards relating to what situations hashish could be prescribed for, at what quantities and what the method is for issuing medical marijuana licenses to certified residents.

Lawmakers in Kansas are poised to move medical-marijuana laws, after a 2021 invoice was pulled from the state Senate’s calendar. Now beneath debate throughout the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee, the measure would enable docs to suggest hashish for power ache and particular situations, together with most cancers, glaucoma, ulcerative colitis and Parkinson’s illness.

Which states legalized leisure marijuana?

In line with the Nationwide Convention of State Legislatures, 18 states have legalized the grownup use of marijuana for leisure functions (and medical use, as nicely): Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, Virginia and Washington. 

As well as, leisure hashish is authorized in Washington DC, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.


Completely different strains of marijuana on the MedMen dispensary in West Hollywood, California.  

Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg/Getty Pictures

In South Dakota, a 2020 modification to legalize leisure hashish use handed with 54% of the vote however was struck down by the state Supreme Courtroom a 12 months later, following a lawsuit led by Republican Gov. Kristi Noem. 

Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin and Wyoming have medical allowances for the authorized possession of CBD (cannabidiol) merchandise containing low ranges of THC, the primary psychoactive ingredient in hashish, typically lower than 3%. 

Compared, most authorized dispensaries promote merchandise with THC percentages of 25% and above. 

What’s the distinction between legalization and decriminalization?

Many states which have legalized marijuana initially decriminalized possession of a small quantity.

Broadly talking, hashish “legalization” means passing legal guidelines that enable the shopping for, promoting and possession of marijuana, normally with restrictions on the age of the buyer and the quantity bought.

Decriminalization, however, sometimes implies that violating sure marijuana legal guidelines can nonetheless lead to fines or different penalties however not legal prices or jail time. 

Whereas neither Nebraska nor North Carolina has legalized hashish for leisure or medicinal functions, each states have decriminalized low-level marijuana offenses.

medical cannabis marijuana

Containers of medicinal marijuana on show on the Different Natural Well being Providers hashish dispensary in San Francisco.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Pictures

In North Carolina, possession of half an oz. of marijuana or much less is taken into account a Class 3 misdemeanor punishable by a $200 fantastic, “however any sentence of imprisonment imposed have to be suspended.”

In Nebraska, the first-offense possession of an oz. or much less is punishable by a most fantastic of $300 and a doable requirement to finish a drug schooling course. A second conviction is taken into account a misdemeanor, punishable by a most fantastic of $500. Subsequent convictions are additionally misdemeanors, punishable by a most fantastic of $500 and as much as seven days in jail.

The US Virgin Islands decriminalized leisure marijuana in 2014, reducing penalties for possession of an oz. or much less from a $5,000 fantastic and a 12 months in jail to a most $200 fantastic and no jail time.

Is Congress addressing hashish laws?

As extra states legalize medical and leisure marijuana, extra lawmakers wish to sq. up federal legal guidelines so that they don’t battle with state rules.

Senate Democrats need to introduce laws this spring that will elevate the federal ban on hashish and permit states to determine their very own tips.


The Senate might take up a hashish legalization invoice this session.

CNET/Marguerite Reardon

In a Feb. 10 letter, Schumer, Booker and Wyden, Democrats from New York, New Jersey and Oregon, respectively, invited their colleagues in Senate into the drafting course of to assist finalize this laws. The letter requests enter from the heads of related committees in addition to senators who’ve handled “the challenges and realities of legalization in their very own states.” 

“As increasingly states transfer to legalize hashish for each grownup and medical use, the federal authorities has an necessary position to play,” the letter reads. “Lots of of tens of millions of Individuals stay in states which have legalized hashish in some type whereas it stays unlawful on the federal stage.”

That discrepancy “breeds confusion and uncertainty,” the senators mentioned, and raises questions in areas from legal justice reform to small enterprise development and public security.

Final 12 months, the three launched a dialogue draft of the Hashish Administration and Alternative Act “to proper the wrongs of the previous and be sure that the federal authorities is matching the developments made in states throughout the nation.”

In a February press convention, Schumer mentioned he hoped to introduce a proper invoice as early as April that will take away federal prohibitions and permit states to determine their very own tips.

“As majority chief, I can set priorities. It is a precedence for me,” Schumer mentioned, in accordance with Bloomberg.

What does the Hashish Administration and Alternative Act do?

Whereas Congress nonetheless has to hammer out the main points, the CAOA would finish “the failed federal prohibition of hashish” if handed, in accordance with the dialogue draft.

The measure would routinely expunge federal nonviolent marijuana crimes and permit people serving time in federal jail for nonviolent marijuana crimes to petition for resentencing.

A man holding a marijuana leaf


It could additionally put federal tax income from authorized hashish gross sales towards a fund “to reinvest within the communities most impacted by the failed ‘Struggle on Medication,’” and work to stage the enjoying subject for entrepreneurs of coloration who face limitations to getting into the market.

The act offers state-compliant hashish companies entry to monetary companies — corresponding to financial institution accounts, loans and bank card transactions — and ends discrimination towards medical marijuana sufferers and grownup leisure customers in federal public advantages.

Different efforts to alter federal marijuana legal guidelines

There have been different current payments aimed toward reforming federal marijuana legal guidelines: The Marijuana Alternative Reinvestment and Expungement Act handed the Home in December 2020, the primary time both chamber accredited repealing federal marijuana prohibition. Just like the CAOA, the MORE Act would deschedule hashish from the Managed Substances Act, expunge prior convictions and tax hashish merchandise to fund legal reform and social justice initiatives.

Then-Sen. Kamala Harris of California, a Democrat, launched an identical invoice within the Senate in 2020, although it wasn’t taken up for consideration.

In November 2021, Rep. Nancy Mace, a Republican from South Carolina, launched the States Reform Act, which might federally decriminalize marijuana — stopping wanting full legalization however giving states extra management in regulation.

Amazon has come out publicly in assist of each Mace’s invoice and the MORE Act.

On Feb. 4, as an modification to the America Competes Act of 2022, the Home handed the Safe and Honest Enforcement Banking Act, which might grant state-licensed marijuana companies entry to monetary companies. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, a Democrat from Colorado, first launched the invoice in 2019. He says he’s assured it can lastly clear the Senate this session.

“I feel that is the invoice that’s going to interrupt the ice, after which different issues could be added or advocated for, over the course of the following few months or years,” Perlmutter instructed Yahoo Information.

Does President Joe Biden assist legalizing weed?

Through the 2020 presidential marketing campaign, then-candidate Joe Biden promised to “decriminalize hashish use and routinely expunge prior convictions.” 

In line with Biden’s marketing campaign web site, “Nobody needs to be in jail due to hashish use.”

Biden press conference

Whereas campaigning for president, Joe Biden mentioned he supported legalizing medical marijuana and leaving regulation of leisure weed as much as the states.

Screenshot by Corinne Reichert/CNET

The positioning promised that, as president, Biden would “assist the legalization of hashish for medical functions, go away choices relating to legalization for leisure use as much as the states, and reschedule hashish as a schedule II drug so researchers can research its optimistic and detrimental impacts.”

Whereas Biden as president can’t repeal federal marijuana legal guidelines on his personal, he can grant amnesty to folks with federal convictions for nonviolent marijuana-related crimes. He also can reinstate Obama-era steerage to the Justice Division to not prosecute low-level marijuana offenses or intrude with state marijuana legal guidelines

Biden might additionally throw his weight behind the Hashish Administration and Alternative Act or comparable payments.

“Biden and his celebration each are in want of political wins, and stress-free marijuana legal guidelines — or totally legalizing the drug — is extraordinarily in style,” Alex Shepard wrote for the New Republic in December. 

How do Individuals really feel about authorized marijuana?

In line with a 2021 Pew Analysis ballot, 91% of Individuals imagine hashish needs to be legalized to a point — 31% for medical use and 60% for each medical and leisure use.

Solely 8% of respondents mentioned marijuana shouldn’t be authorized in any respect.

Help for decriminalization crosses celebration affiliation, with 47% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents favoring legalizing marijuana for each medical and leisure use and a further 40% for medical use alone. 

That’s in contrast with the 72% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents who again legalization for each medical and leisure use and a further 23% who need it legalized just for medical use.

The shift has grown via the generations, with 70% of Individuals aged 18 to 29 backing legalization for leisure and medical use, in contrast with 46% of these 65 and older.

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