Marijuana remains a controversial and complex issue in the United States, caught between state initiatives and federal law. As of March 1, 2023, 21 states, along with Washington D.C., Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands, have enacted laws that permit recreational marijuana use. Despite these state-level changes, marijuana continues to be illegal under federal law.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) acknowledges the widespread use of marijuana, with an estimated 48.2 million users in 2019. The CDC aims to address public health concerns and enhance understanding of marijuana’s impact on health. Furthermore, the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) classifies marijuana as a Schedule I substance, indicating a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use, contradicting state laws that have legalized its medical and recreational use.
The Congressional Research Service (CRS) Reports explain that while states cannot fully legalize marijuana because they cannot alter federal law, they have been experimenting with liberalization policies. These began with decriminalization in the 1970s, followed by medical access laws in the 1990s. This experimentation has led to a policy gap between state and federal laws.
Despite the federal classification, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) acknowledges that some states within the U.S. have allowed the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) holds the authority to approve drugs for medicinal use, yet marijuana remains federally unapproved.
A study found in PMC highlights the confusion among the public, with a significant percentage of individuals unaware of their state’s laws regarding medical cannabis. This confusion adds another layer of complexity to the already intricate legal landscape of marijuana in the U.S.
Finally, the incongruity between state and federal legislation creates challenges, as highlighted by PubMed’s Medical Cannabis State and Federal Regulations. Despite the movement towards legalization, with no state reversing its laws since California’s landmark decision in 1996, marijuana’s federal status remains a hurdle for full legalization efforts.