Understanding the Complex Legal Status of Marijuana in the United States

The legal status of marijuana in the United States is a complex and evolving issue. Marijuana, also known as cannabis, weed, pot, or dope, is a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act. This classification means that it is considered to have a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use at the federal level. Despite this, some states have allowed the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration holding federal authority over its medical use.

As of March 1, 2023, recreational marijuana has been legalized in 21 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands. These laws remove all state-imposed penalties for specified activities involving marijuana. However, important limitations on trafficking, marketing, and underage sales should remain in place to mitigate potential societal harms.

Marijuana is the most commonly used federally illegal drug in the United States, with an estimated 48.2 million people, or about 18% of Americans, having used it at least once in 2019. Research indicates that approximately 3 in 10 people who use marijuana may develop a marijuana use disorder. This risk is heightened in individuals who begin using marijuana before the age of 18 and use it frequently.

Medicinal cannabis is legal in some form in 47 states, three U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia. An estimated three million Americans use cannabis for various medical conditions, a number expected to grow due to policy changes. However, its illegal status at the federal level as a Schedule I drug creates a policy gap between federal and state regulations.

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Research from the National Surveys of Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) shows that states with medical cannabis laws had a higher prevalence of past-month cannabis use before passing these laws compared to states without such laws. There is also evidence of increases in cannabis use following the passage of medical cannabis laws.

Marijuana is a mind-altering psychoactive drug made from the dry, shredded mix of flowers, stems, seeds, and leaves of the cannabis sativa plant. The main psychoactive ingredient is THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), which is responsible for the drug’s addictive and impairing effects.

For more detailed information, refer to the following sources:

Drug Fact Sheet: Marijuana/Cannabis – DEA.gov
The Federal Status of Marijuana and the Expanding Policy Gap with States
Statement from President Biden on Marijuana Reform
What We Know about Marijuana – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Data and Statistics – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Medicinal Cannabis: Policy Patients and Providers – PMC
Understanding the Complex Legal Status of Marijuana in the United States

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