Cannabis Legalization in the USA

Sep 10, 2021

Legality of cannabis by U.S. jurisdiction

In the United States, the use and possession of cannabis is illegal under federal law for any purpose, by way of the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. Under the CSA, cannabis is classified as a Schedule I substance, determined to have a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use – thereby prohibiting even medical use of the drug. However, at the state level policies regarding the medical and recreational use of cannabis vary greatly, and in many states conflict significantly with federal law.

Cannabis for recreational use

The recreational use of cannabis is legalized in 18 states, the District of Columbia, the Northern Mariana Islands, and Guam. Another 13 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands have decriminalized its use. Commercial distribution of cannabis has been legalized in all jurisdictions where possession has been legalized, except the District of Columbia. Prior to January 2018, the Cole Memorandum provided some protection against enforcement of federal law in states that have legalized cannabis, but it was rescinded by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Cannabis for meeical purpose

The medical use of cannabis is legal, with a doctor’s recommendation, in 36 states, four out of five permanently inhabited U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia. Twelve other states have laws that limit THC content, for the purpose of allowing access to products that are rich in cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive component of cannabis. Although cannabis remains a Schedule I drug, the Rohrabacher–Farr amendment prohibits federal prosecution of individuals complying with state medical cannabis laws.

Although the use of cannabis remains federally illegal, some of its derivative compounds have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for prescription use. Cannabinoid drugs which have received FDA approval are Marinol (THC), Syndros (THC), Cesamet (nabilone), and Epidiolex (cannabidiol). For non-prescription use, cannabidiol derived from industrial hemp is legal at the federal level, but legality and enforcement varies by state.