Despite the federal law against its possession or use, several states have moved to legalize cannabis, albeit with localized restrictions. In the last two months, four states, including New York, have approved cannabis as a recreational substance for adult use. This begs the question, which states will legalize cannabis use next?
Federal law considers cannabis an illegal substance whenever it has 0.3% or more delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive ingredient of marijuana. This, therefore, prohibits the use, sale, and possession of cannabis according to federal law. The Controlled Substance Act (CSA),1970 categorizes cannabis as a Schedule 1 substance.
Substances listed as Schedule 1 have a high potential for abuse and lack medical usefulness in treatment. Despite this, about 36 states (and counting), including the District of Columbia and four inhabited U.S territories, have approved personal medical use of cannabis, while some are yet to implement the new law.
In an attempt to dampen the feud between state and federal laws, a recent move to annul the federal ban on cannabis is linked to the increasing number of states in which cannabis is set to be legalized. . Whether or not that bill will be approved is debatable, but more and more states are making drastic moves to legalize cannabis at state level.
Different states perceive the use of cannabis from different perspectives. Cannabis is known for its addictive properties and adverse effects on various body organs. However, some states believe that, with proper regulation, cannabis can be legalized and has the potential to boost the economy.
The proposed economic boost from legalizing cannabis would stem from new jobs and an increase in annual revenue taxes. In addition, some argue that—with legalization and regulation—it would be easier to ensure that only approved adults have access to cannabis.
In addition to benefiting state treasuries, the move to legalize cannabis is thought to be a solution to the way in which existing marijuana law discriminates against some races.
State approval has not altered federal opinion. Hence, the cannabis business still faces hurdles in funding, especially from financial institutions licensed with the federal government. Despite this, legislators continue to pass bills to legalize cannabis within the state.
Although federal law does not approve cannabis, different states use different terms when approving the use of cannabis.
Different types of cannabis laws include:
Each of these terms describes different regulations on the use and sale of cannabis in the states where they are observed. In the subsequent portions of this article, we try to explain what each of these cannabis law statuses means, and name the states where this status applies.
To fully legalize cannabis means to remove every form of legal limit on its use or possession. When a state legalizes cannabis, it allows unregulated use of cannabis for recreational purposes among people over 21.
No state in the United States has fully legalized cannabis. Although recreational use is now legal in some states, there are still some restrictions on its use, sale and possession.
Some states also allow for private plant cultivation, while others permit only registered and licensed cultivators to grow the plant. The number of potted plants approved amongst the states varies from 3 to 12—with some peculiar regulations, which vary from state to state.
Cannabis is fully legal when possession or consumption is not regulated.
When the governor of New Mexico signed the legislative bill to legalize cannabis on April 17, 2021, the number of states that had legalized recreational use of cannabis increased to 17.
Aside from those 17 states of the United States, two permanently inhabited territories and the District of Columbia have also legalized the use and possession of cannabis for recreational purposes.
Several states, especially those states that allow the use of cannabis for medical use, are now considering legalizing cannabis for recreational use.
The argument behind this move is that legalization will create more job opportunities, increase revenue and curb even out the racial impact of existing cannabis law.
The propensity for these states to legalize cannabis seems to be linked to the political inclination of the governors and lawmakers in those states. For instance, the Republican governors of Maryland and Minnesota have consistently vetoed the bills passed for legalizing THC. This same trend is seen in the Republican-controlled legislature in Florida.
Connecticut, a Democrat-led state, however, is the most likely to join the troop of cannabis-legalized states. The legislature has already passed two bills, and they project that legalization should happen no later than 2022.
Medical legalization of cannabis means that cannabis can be used in graded portions for medical purposes. This denotes that, although cannabis has not been legalized for recreational use, it has been accepted for the management of extreme medical situations.
Out of the 36 states where medical cannabis is lawful, 12 have accepted the use of low-THC high-cannabidiol to aid in the management of some medical conditions, including epilepsy, intractable seizures, Alzheimer’s, and terminal cancer.
Cannabis, in regulated volumes, has been found useful for pain relief, inducing hunger, and managing nausea. However, states that allow for medical use also recognize that the psychological effect of cannabis can override the therapeutic effect.
The legal, medical use of cannabis differs across the states. Cannabis is illegal for medical use in states like Idaho, Kansas, and Tennessee. However, it can be permitted for extreme medical conditions only if a certain percentage (0.3% - 0.9%) of THC is not exceeded. In this case, it is said to be CBD-approved. About 13 states recognize this CBD-approved medical use of cannabis.
For the sake of clarity, this section lists the states where cannabis is fully legal for medical purposes.
Medical Cannabis use is permitted but restricted to extreme medical conditions and only within specific percentages of THC (CBD approved) in the following states:
Medical cannabis law was overturned in Mississippi and South Dakota, making it illegal for medical use, although South Dakota's court-overturned measure is pending appeal. It is prohibited in Michigan state law, although locals can create ordinances that legalize it.
Decriminalization of cannabis law means that the legislative government has removed or reduced the gravity of the criminal sanctions that await offenders. This means that, although cannabis is not strictly legal for personal use or possession, anyone caught with a certain quantity of cannabis will not be punished with arrest or jail time.
This is not seen as a gateway for indiscriminate use of cannabis in these states because the law still views the use or possession of cannabis as illegal and worthy of prosecution. However, with the law decriminalized, if offenders are caught with use or possession of cannabis within a certain state-directed limit, they would not be prosecuted nor have a criminal record.
Instead of prosecution, offenders will be penalized. These penalties could range from acquittal to fines and even drug education and treatment. Decriminalization also means that people already serving time in prisons due to the use, sale, or possession of cannabis will be acquitted.
Some state laws have decriminalized cannabis where it was otherwise illegal. Most states where cannabis has been decriminalized have also approved it for medical use. In some states, the decriminalization of cannabis is partial, while others observe full decriminalization.
The difference between partial and full decriminalization is the extent to which the government removes the legal implication of possessing or using cannabis.
In a literal sense, cannabis is fully illegal when the law prohibits the use, sale, or possession of it in any quantity and for any use within a territory. For cannabis to be fully illegal in a state, it means that grave legal consequences await those who use, possess, or sell it. There is no exemption regardless of the reason for its use or the percentage strength used.
So far, no state in the U.S has ruled that cannabis is fully illegal. Most states that have not legalized cannabis nor approved it for medical use have decriminalized cannabis. This makes it legal to a certain degree. Nebraska is the only state that does not approve the medical use of cannabis. However, the law has been decriminalized in the state.
For the sake of this article, the states listed under the ‘fully illegal’ status are those which have either:
The cannabis law in a state can be said to be of a mixed legal status when the law permits legal, medical use of cannabis and also decriminalizes it. Most of the states that have decriminalized cannabis also allow its use in CBD-approved medical care.
It is noteworthy that not all states that permit medical use of cannabis also permit personal use. So, if the law does not decriminalize cannabis in a state, even if it has been allowed for medical use, anyone caught with cannabis will be prosecuted. And if someone is in possession of cannabis for medical reasons, that person will have to present a medical certificate for confirmation.
It is also interesting to note that most of the states that are predicted to legalize cannabis next have mixed legal cannabis law status. The argument is simple: since cannabis is already allowed for medical use and recreational use will not be punished, why not remove the entire ban?
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