Yash Lucid

In the United States, the use and possession of cannabis is illegal under federal law by way of the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 for any purpose.

Since then, marijuana has remained a “Schedule I” controlled substance classified as having a high potential for abuse with no accepted medical use. It is widely recognized in the drug policy field that eleven states enacted legislations during the 1970s to reduce criminal sanctions associated with the possession of small amounts of marijuana. 

In 1973, Oregon was the first to lower its penalties.

This was followed shortly by Colorado, Alaska, and Ohio in 1975; California, Maine, and Minnesota in 1976; Mississippi, New York, and North Carolina in 1977; and Nebraska in 1978.

These 11 States, with the addition of Arizona in 1996, are commonly referred to as “decriminalized” within the marijuana space. Decriminalization as defined by the “Shaffer commission” includes those policies under which the possession of marijuana for personal use or casual distribution of small amounts for no remunerations was not considered a criminal offense. 

As of June 2021, the non-medical use of cannabis is legalized in 18 states (plus Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the District of Columbia) and decriminalized in 13 states (plus the U.S. Virgin Islands).

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. 

Commercial distribution of cannabis has been legalized in all jurisdictions where possession has been legalized, except the District of Columbia. Connecticut became the latest state to legalize the recreational use of cannabis with the passage of SB 1201 meanwhile, Alabama’s legislature and governor legalized medical cannabis this year. Louisiana decriminalized possession of up to 14 grams.

As more and more states become legalized, federal legalization of cannabis seems to be on the horizon.  Until then, all we can do is watch it play out.