The legal landscape for marijuana in the United States is complex and continuously evolving. Despite marijuana remaining a Schedule I substance under the federal Controlled Substances Act, a significant policy gap has emerged as states have taken individual paths towards legalization. As of March 1, 2023, a total of 21 states, along with Washington D.C., Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands, have enacted laws permitting recreational use of marijuana, signaling a shift in public attitudes and state-level governance of cannabis.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) actively works to understand the public health implications of marijuana use, acknowledging its position as the most commonly used federally illegal drug in the United States. In 2019, it was estimated that 48.2 million Americans used marijuana.
Medical marijuana laws have also been a significant factor in changing cannabis use outcomes. Studies utilizing data from the National Surveys of Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) indicate that states with medical cannabis laws experienced an increase in cannabis usage. This trend is further supported by research suggesting that states with legalized cannabis reported a decrease in opioid overdose mortality rates.
Furthermore, the Department of Justice has been restricted by an appropriations rider since FY2015 from using funds to prevent states from implementing their own marijuana policies. This has allowed state-legal marijuana industries to operate despite being in conflict with federal law.
The legal status and public perception of cannabis continue to influence usage and attitudes. Twenty-nine states have now passed medical marijuana laws (MMLs), and several states have implemented laws with explicit employment protections for medical marijuana users, such as Oklahoma’s SQ 788.
The Congressional Research Service reports, and other studies from the National Center for Biotechnology Information reflect the diverse approaches states have taken, highlighting the need for a nuanced understanding of the national cannabis economy and its regulatory challenges.