Federal law considers cannabis a Schedule I drug. However, 19 states approved the use of marijuana for medical and recreational purposes. In November, legislators in five other states will vote on whether to approve marijuana for recreational use.
This month, President Joe Biden issued an executive order to pardon federal convictions for simple marijuana possession. He also encouraged state governors to take similar action.
Here is everything you need to know about the current state of marijuana legalization in the United States, including which states have already passed laws and what’s going on at the federal level.
What States Legalized Marijuana for Medical Use?
As of July 2022, these 38 states legalized cannabis for medical purposes with varying conditions:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
The District of Columbia and territories Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Northern Mariana Islands also legalized medical marijuana.
Every state and territory has its own laws regarding medical marijuana, including medical conditions a doctor can prescribe it for, the process for issuing medical marijuana licenses, and the amount people can buy.
Where Is Recreational Marijuana Legal?
Marijuana is legal at the state level for recreational use in the District of Columbia and the following 19 states:
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- Rhode Island
Cannabis for recreational purposes is also legal in the Northern Mariana Islands and Guam.
Federal Actions Against Marijuana
The Drug Enforcement Agency classifies cannabis as a Schedule I controlled substance with high abuse potential and no accepted medical use despite President Biden’s recent order. It belongs to the same category as drugs, such as LSD and heroin.
In 2013, Former President Barack Obama issued the Cole Memorandum directing the Justice Department to defer to authorities in states where marijuana is legal. However, the attorney general under former President Donald Trump rescinded the memo in 2018.
Advocates for the legalization of marijuana at the state level have encouraged President Biden to direct the reinstatement of the Cole Memo by his attorney general Merrick Garland.
An Overview of the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act
The Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA) is a new bill with the Senate. It aims to end the federal ban on cannabis and allow state-compliant businesses to access financial services, such as business loans, bank accounts, and credit card transactions.
With hundreds of millions of Americans living in states where cannabis is legal in some form but still illegal on the federal level, uncertainty and confusion are common. It raises questions about issues such as public safety and small-business growth.
CAOA also addresses penalties for possessing and distributing large amounts of cannabis without a valid permit, federally mandated impaired-driving standards, and workers’ rights in the cannabis industry.
What’s the MORE Act?
Another bill called the Marijuana Opportunity and Reinvestment Expungement (MORE) Act aims to abolish federal penalties for possessing, distributing, and growing cannabis. Another goal is to expunge convictions for non-violent cannabis-related crimes.
The act doesn’t require states to legalize cannabis. However, state lawmakers would be responsible for regulating use.
Although the bill initially passed the House in December 2020, the Senate would not consider a matching bill. All Democrats and ten Republicans will need to support the act if it comes up for a vote in the upper chamber.
Recent Efforts to Change Federal Laws
An increasing number of lawmakers want to change federal laws so state regulations don’t conflict with them, creating problems for medical and recreational marijuana users.
The House passed the Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act on February 4, 2022, which was originally introduced by Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) in 2019. If it clears the Senate this year (an unlikely prospect), it will grant state-licensed marijuana businesses access to necessary financial services.
The Senate unanimously approved the Cannabidiol and Marijuana Research Expansion Act in late March this year. It would streamline the application process researchers have to go through to study the medicinal value of cannabis and similar products.
Significant Developments for Cannabis at the State Level
In Florida, Green Thumb Industries partnered with Circle K to make cannabis available at the convenience store chain for people with a valid medical marijuana card. The company announced its plans to lease space from ten locations to test its concept next year.
A separate entrance from the convenience store will be available for the RISE Express stores. It will feature pre-rolled joints, vapes, smokable “flower”, and gummies.
Green Thumb said its new 28-acre cultivation facility should open by the end of the year. Products sold in the Circle K stores will come from this facility.
In Maryland, the Yes on 4 campaign seeks to legalize marijuana for recreational use next year. Campaign organizers encourage voters to vote yes on question four during midterm elections. This would legalize marijuana for recreational use for people 21 and older.
Supporters believe continuing to criminalize marijuana when other states have legalized it seems trivial. Passing question four on the ballot might give those convicted of minor drug offenses an opportunity for a second chance.
Detroit has faced various legal challenges over an ordinance allowing equity applicants to obtain recreational marijuana licenses. Despite several lawsuits, the city proceeded with accepting applications for a limited number of licenses on September 1.
The first phase included 90 applications for licensing for microbusinesses, dispensaries, and consumption lounges. Only 60 licenses are available. In total, the city will issue 160 licenses in three separate phases.
Equity applicants are people living in communities disproportionately impacted by marijuana enforcement and prohibition. It also includes residents with certified Detroit Legacy status living in the state or another disproportionately affected community.
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