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Legality of State vs Federal Marijuana Laws

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

January 17, 2019

The legality of marijuana in the United States varies from state to state and even between the state and federal level. Knowing the laws and regulations of a certain area can help keep individuals out of trouble.

The struggle between federal legal authority and state law as it pertains to the legality of marijuana is lessening. It is still illegal to use or possess marijuana according to federal law, which regulates marijuana as a Schedule 1 Controlled Substance. More recently, leniencies have emerged allowing states to decriminalize the use of marijuana as long as a legal protective framework is in place for a state to regulate the sale and use of the drug. This has caused much confusion at federal, state, and even local levels, in cases where entire cities have voted to decriminalize the drug, but do not meet the federal guidelines for this process.

Recreational And Medicinal Marijuana Legal In Which States?

Currently, Colorado, Washington, Alaska, Oregon, California, Nevada, Michigan, Maine, and Massachusetts have made the sale and distribution of marijuana for both recreational and medicinal use legal, with other states pending. States like Colorado have a Marijuana Enforcement Division, which is an industry regulating the body, issuing business licenses, enforcing mandates, and designing legislation and rules to maintain industry transparency. Those who pass inspection and backgrounds checks and go through a proper licensing procedure may grow and disperse marijuana legally.

To maintain a level of public safety surrounding the sale and use of the drug, marijuana growers and distributors report on everything from the strain of cannabis grown to how it was grown to where it is dispensed. Inspections are also implemented to ensure guidelines are being followed.

In Oregon, an amendment to laws regulating sale and distribution of marijuana has just been restricted further in an effort to deter the sale of cannabis to the black market. Growers are now limited to 12 plants within urban residential zones, 48 plants outside these zones, and some existing growers may be permitted to maintain a larger inventory to serve existing customers.

There’s a significant difference between legalization of marijuana and decriminalization of the drug. Some states have legalized medical marijuana, but the sale of the drug outside of this use is illegal. Instead, these states are eliminating criminalization for possession or use of the drug. And even in states where the drug is legal, guidelines and state law must be followed, or legal consequences will be enforced.

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Decriminalization Laws

Decriminalization means the removal of the legal prosecution for those found in possession of marijuana. Several states have decriminalized use or possession of marijuana, but this does not imply it is legal to grow and distribute the substance. In these states, it may be legal to grow medical marijuana for dispensaries, but not legal to sell marijuana outside of those limitations.

The following states have decriminalized marijuana: Nebraska, Ohio, North Carolina, and Mississippi.

Legalized Medical Marijuana

The states of California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Montana, Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maine, New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland permit the regulated growing, sales, and distribution of medical marijuana.

Medical marijuana is cannabis used for the treatment of disease or disease symptoms. It is used most often to reduce nausea or improve appetite, especially for patients undergoing chemotherapy, used in pain management, and as an antispasmodic used to control muscle contractions relating to diseases like multiple sclerosis. Medical cannabis may also be used to treat insomnia and reduce anxiety, though some strains may increase feelings of paranoia.

Addiction Risk With Marijuana

Though marijuana is still classified as a Schedule 1 substance, meaning the drug has a high potential for abuse, no accepted medical use, and there are no safety measures of use in place. Though the drug has remained under this classification since the 1970s, today it is used both medically and recreationally, and legally, under some of the states mentioned earlier.

The addiction risk with marijuana depends a lot on the level of THC a person is ingesting and at what regular duration of use. The marijuana sold for recreational purposes today contains 3-5 percent more THC, the psychoactive component to marijuana than it did in the middle of the last century. This means more of the psychoactive component is in your system and it can increase your risk of addiction.

Short-Term Side Effects Of Marijuana

Euphoria is one short-term side effect of marijuana, but there are a host of other symptoms a person may experience with the use of the drug. These include:

  • Paranoia
  • Altered sense of time
  • Mood changes
  • Delayed physical movement
  • Lack of coordination
  • Memory loss
  • Impaired thinking

While some of these side effects may seem minimal, they can result in larger consequences, especially if someone chooses to drive while under the influence of the drug.

Long-Term Use Or Abuse Of Marijuana

Someone who has been using or abusing marijuana for an extended period of time will face a greater challenge retaining new memories, impaired cognitive functioning, apathy, reduced blood flow to the brain, lung-related ailments, and may experience more significant paranoia, anxiety, depression, and even hallucinations.

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