Cannabis, commonly known as marijuana, stands as the most widely used illicit drug in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), at least 18% of Americans had used it at least once in 2019, underscoring its widespread prevalence. Despite its common use, there remains substantial confusion regarding its usage and legal status.
The regulatory landscape for cannabis is complex, involving both federal and state regulations that frequently conflict with each other. These contradictions contribute to significant uncertainty for those seeking clarity on the legality of buying, selling, or using cannabis for medical or recreational purposes. To navigate this complexity, it is crucial to understand the specific laws applicable in your state. Utilize this guide to discern what is permitted and what is not within your local jurisdiction.
Defining Cannabis and Assessing Its Legality:
Mackenzie Slade, the director of Cannabis Public Policy Consulting, highlights the confusion surrounding three closely related terms: marijuana, cannabis, and hemp. While hemp is specifically described as a cannabis sativa plant containing no more than 0.3% delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) by dry weight, Slade notes that “marijuana” and “cannabis” are often used interchangeably concerning legal status.
Both marijuana and cannabis denote the psychoactive component of the cannabis plant, typically consumed through smoking, ingestion, vaping, or topical application. Slade clarifies that cannabis, belonging to the cannabis genus, produces flowers and plant material with concentrated amounts of psychoactive chemicals. While certain psychoactive chemicals are found in other plants, cannabis is unique in producing the cannabinoids tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabinol (CBD). In contrast, hemp contains minimal levels of intoxicating compounds. Understanding these distinctions is essential for individuals navigating the legal landscape surrounding cannabis.
Cannabis legalization remains a prominent and contentious issue, with ongoing debates at both the federal and state levels. While federal laws addressing cannabis legality are in place, recent legislative activity, such as the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, introduced in April 2022, underscores the dynamic nature of the discourse. Moreover, individual states contribute to the complexity by enacting their own laws governing cannabis production, sale, and use.
Under the Controlled Substance Act of 1970, marijuana is classified as a Schedule 1 substance, denoting its illegality, potential for abuse, and purported lack of medical benefits. Mackenzie Slade emphasizes the rigorous federal regulation imposed on cannabis, subjecting it to oversight by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and enforcement by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Despite its Schedule 1 status, an exception exists for the prescription drug Epidiolex, used to treat seizure disorders, as it contains diamond cbd oil, not THC.
While marijuana’s federal legal status has persisted since the 1970s, certain aspects of federal laws have evolved. The 2013 Cole Memorandum outlined priorities for federal investigations and prosecutions related to marijuana, emphasizing adherence to state-regulated cannabis programs. The recent Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, passed by the House in April 2022, proposes descheduling marijuana from the Controlled Substance Act and advocates for the expungement of prior marijuana-related convictions. Despite its House approval, the bill faces uncertainty in the Senate, with limited Republican support.
State-Level Cannabis Legalization:
The movement toward decriminalizing marijuana traces back to the 1960s, gaining momentum as a growing interest in medical cannabis emerged. In 1996, California became the pioneer by passing the Medical Marijuana Law (MML), legalizing cannabis for medical use. Presently, 37 states have enacted MMLs, allowing medical cannabis use, and 19 states (plus the District of Columbia) permit recreational cannabis use.
Mackenzie Slade notes the diversity in the legalization process across states, with early adopters like California and Colorado utilizing citizen ballot initiatives. However, a notable shift is occurring, with some states, like Illinois, pioneering legislation through their legislature to establish taxed and regulated cannabis programs. This evolving landscape highlights the intricate interplay between federal and state regulations in shaping the legal status of cannabis.
Looking ahead to the future of cannabis legalization, Mackenzie Slade anticipates further transformations. She envisions that future federal legalization will likely accord substantial deference to state regulations, creating a framework that permits interstate commerce under appropriate federal tax structures and monitoring. According to Slade, the inclusion of interstate commerce would result in a profound shift in the operations of cannabis businesses and significantly alter the purchasing dynamics for marijuana consumers. This suggests an evolving landscape where the intricate interplay between federal and state regulations continues to shape the trajectory of cannabis policy in the United States.