Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors| Last updated July 02, 2021
Should marijuana be legalized in the U.S.? Thus, goes the "great cannabis debate." Supporters of legalizing the herb say regulating and taxing marijuana will bring in much-needed revenue to the states. They insist that marijuana use is no more dangerous than alcohol use, and might be less so.
Yet, critics of the proposals say that legalizing marijuana would increase its usage, particularly among young people. They argue that driving under the influence of marijuana is even more dangerous than alcohol.
Where Is Possession of Recreational Marijuana Legal?
Colorado and Washington were the first states to fully legalize it for recreational purposes. Basically, the legalization of marijuana means you can't be arrested, ticketed, or convicted for using marijuana, if you follow the state laws as to age, place, and amount for consumption. However, you can still get arrested for selling or trafficking marijuana if you aren't following state laws on licensure and taxation.
States that have legalized possession of marijuana for recreational use include the following:
The use of medical marijuana is also another polarizing sub-issue in the marijuana debate. The District of Columbia and 23 states have passed laws allowing smoked marijuana to be used for a variety of medical conditions. States with medical marijuana laws often have some form of patient registry, which may provide some protection against state arrest for possession up to a certain amount of marijuana for personal medical use.
Medical marijuana growers or dispensaries are authorized in some of the following states and may be limited to a certain number of plants or products per medical user. Regulation of marijuana for purported medical use may also exist at the county and city level, in addition to state laws:
Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, Washington D.C.
Federal Law and Marijuana in D.C.
Although some states have either decriminalized possession of a specified amount of marijuana for recreational use or for medicinal purpose, federal law continues to prohibit the possession or use of any amount of marijuana. Cannabis is a Schedule I drug according to the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, which classified cannabis as having:
High potential for abuse;
No medical use; and
Not safe to use without medical supervision.
As a result, federal law enforcement officers may technically arrest anyone for possession or use of any amount of marijuana as a violation of federal law. For example, the U.S. Park Police can arrest a person for possessing or using any marijuana on the National Mall, Rock Creek Park, or any other National Park Service land. It is also a federal crime to manufacture and cultivate illegal drugs.
Federal vs. State Laws
When federal law and state law conflict, the federal law trumps. In states where marijuana has been legalized for recreational purposes, the state laws conflict with federal law. The conflict between state and federal marijuana laws is likely to continue and ultimately require resolution, possibly through a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.
FindLaw's Crash Course in Cannabis Law
Trying to understand marijuana laws can be a bit overwhelming with so many variations of these laws around the country. Get your "crash course" in cannabis law by checking out FindLaw's video below.
Note:State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.
Confused About Marijuana Laws? An Attorney Can Help
Despite the trend toward decriminalization of marijuana there are still plenty of places and circumstances in which marijuana possession and use may cause legal problems. If you run into legal trouble as a result of marijuana an attorney can help you sort out the laws involved and plan a solid defense. Contact a seasoned defense lawyer near you to get some peace of mind about your state's marijuana laws.
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