The Legality of Cannabis

Cannabis legalization is a hot topic across the United States. With 29 states currently having some form of legalized cannabis, and many more currently debating legalizing it, cannabis is likely to remain a controversial topic for the next few years. The legality of cannabis is an a hotbed of debate and opinions. Read on to find out more in the legal world of cannabis. 

Worldwide, the legalization of cannabis has happened, one way or another,  in a number of countries already including:

  • Germany
  • Netherlands
  • South Africa
  • Spain
  • Uruguay

With countries like Canada set to decriminalize marijuana in 2018, cannabis use – both medically and recreationally – is becoming more accepted worldwide.

The legality of Cannabis in the U.S.

In the United States, the legality of cannabis is, at best, confusing.

At the Federal level the use, possession, sale, cultivation and transportation of cannabis is illegal. Cannabis is listed as a Schedule 1 substance, the strictest level, under the Controlled Substance Act of 1970. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) defines a Schedule 1 drug as “a substance that has a high potential of being abused by its users and has no acceptable medical uses.“ Which is quite odd, considering the fact that cocaine is listed as a Schedule II drug and stocked for emergency use inside some hospitals.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has a strict anti-marijuana stance and has created the Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety to look into the current marijuana laws at a federal level. It’s believed that this task force could lead to an increased crackdown on cannabis use, both medically and recreationally. However, as of yet, President Trump has made no major moves to crack down on marijuana use federally.

But if cannabis is illegal in the U.S., how have states like California and Washington legalized it?

The federal government has told states that if they want to pass a law to decriminalize cannabis for either medical or recreational use, they may do so, under the condition that some sort of regulatory system is in place.

While the legality of cannabis across the country is a pool of murky water, it’s clear that the cannabis landscape in the United States will remain fluid over the next decade, and could be a major talking point during the 2020 Presidential race.  

The Legalization of Cannabis Pros and Cons.

Cannabis Legalization Pros:

  • Crime is NOT rising in cities that have legalized marijuana use for adults.
  • More comprehensive research with less hoops and red tape.
  • An industry that is attracting female entrepreneurs in record numbers.
  • The reduced load on modern medical clinics and doctors offices.
  • The creation of in-state and in-country jobs and taxes.

Cannabis Legalization Cons

  • Accidental use by children, especially because of THC laden edibles marketed to look like popular cookies or candy. Many states have passed laws to prevent this.
  • Challenging for police and law enforcement officers to determine whether a person is truly an impaired driver from using marijuana.
  • Respiratory issues: smoking any dried material, including tobacco, creates tar and other residue that can possibly have a negative impact on your respiratory system.


States where cannabis is legal recreationally and medically

As of election night – November 9, 2016 – the use of both recreational and medicinal marijuana has been legalized in the following states and districts:

  • Alaska
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • Nevada
  • Oregon
  • Washington
  • District of Columbia


While it has been made legal in these states, not all of them offer dispensaries to the public, at least not at this date and time. States who passed legislation in 2016, such as California, are taking the entire year of 2017 to establish laws, licensing, regulations, and tax structures as they pertain to dispensaries and sales.

Currently only five states have dispensaries for recreational users with Nevada recently joining Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Alaska.

Medical marijuana use and legality in the U.S.

For a full list of states where medical cannabis is legal, click here.

What may be surprising to some is that medical use of cannabis has been legal in many states since the mid 90’s and currently 29 states allow the use of medical marijuana in a variety of forms.

In fact, until the early 1940s in the United States, marijuana was found in more than 20 medications for a variety of ailments. It continued to be included in the US Pharmacopoeia, the predecessor of the Physician’s Desk Reference, five years after the Marijuana Stamp Act was passed in 1937.

And while the federal government maintains marijuana is a Schedule 1 drug with no medical uses, study after study has shown that medical marijuana and its components – including Cannabidiol (CBD) – have positive effects on patients.

CBD Clinical Trials

CBD still needs to go through more valid research testing, but some has taken place with mostly promising results.

Through various clinical trials, CBD has been found to reduce inflammation, help with digestion, treat anxiety, fight cancer cells, help fight schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy and help users quit smoking amongst other things.

For an in-depth look at CBD clinical trials, click here.

5 states that are most likely to legalize next


A Vermont bill that would have seen recreational marijuana use legalized in the state was passed through legislation in June was vetoed by Governor Phil Scott. While this may have appeared like a blow to the legalization process in the state, Scott’s own comments on the matter made it clear that he wasn’t opposed to legalizing cannabis – he just wanted to tweak the bill to include tougher penalties for driving under the influence and selling or consuming around minors.

In August of this year, Gov. Scott organized a commission to study issues related to the legalization of marijuana. While politicians debate the pros and cons of cannabis legalization, many supporters see it as a certainty that Vermont will legalize marijuana adult recreational use in early 2018.

New Jersey

When Governor Chris Christie leaves office in January of 2018, his across the aisle counterpart, Democratic nominee and recreational marijuana supporter Phil Murphy, will most likely fill the seat. Many believe that Murphy will steer New Jersey down a path to legalize cannabis use in the state. In fact, a bill has already been introduced into legislature that would see cannabis use legalized (Bill S3195).

Rhode Island

Surprisingly, the small state of Rhode Island has had the highest cannabis consumption rate for the last two years. No small feat, for a state that is only 1200 square miles and doesn’t have cannabis legislation.

With Massachusetts legalizing marijuana in their state, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo has vowed to take a closer look at legalization in Rhode Island and House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello has said he’s ready to take up legislation simply because so many residents will likely cross the border to visit Massachusetts in the wake of their legalization.


While Maryland’s medical marijuana industry has struggled to get off the ground, even four years after it was made legal, supporters of cannabis in the state are making an increasingly bigger case for full legalization. If the medical marijuana rollout in Maryland is successful, look for the state government to move to legalize cannabis.


Despite the conservative nature of the state, cannabis legalization has been gaining some major steam. Marijuana was decriminalized in January of this year and supporters of legalization have until May of 2018 to gain enough signatures to have cannabis legalization on the November election ballot. A goal that they are easily on track to attain.

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