What is the Legal Status of Marijuana in the United States?

Marijuana, also known as cannabis, weed, pot, or dope, is derived from the cannabis plant and contains over 100 compounds, including tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC is the primary impairing compound, while CBD does not cause impairment. Despite its widespread use, marijuana remains a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act in the United States, indicating a high potential for abuse and no currently accepted medical use.

In the United States, cannabis use was legal in the 1800s, primarily for therapeutic purposes. However, following the development of synthetic painkillers and heightened media attention to cannabis-related violence, Congress banned recreational use in 1937. Over time, the stance on marijuana has evolved, with California becoming the first state to legalize medicinal cannabis use in 1996 through the Compassionate Use Act. Currently, cannabis is legal in California for both medicinal and adult (recreational) use, with strict regulations to ensure safety and proper labeling of products.

Despite state-level legalization efforts, there remains a significant policy gap between federal and state laws regarding marijuana. While federal law continues to prohibit its use, many states have legalized medical or recreational marijuana. The federal government has generally focused its enforcement efforts on criminal networks involved in the illicit marijuana trade. Additionally, federal banking regulators have not yet provided formal guidance in response to state marijuana legalization efforts.

As of January 1, 2018, adults aged 21 or older in California can legally use, carry, and grow cannabis, with specific rules for medicinal users. However, important limitations on trafficking, marketing, and underage sales remain in place to prevent misuse.

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Marijuana is the most commonly used federally illegal drug in the United States, with an estimated 18% of Americans having used it at least once in 2019. Research suggests that about 3 in 10 marijuana users may develop marijuana use disorder, especially among those who start using before age 18.

For more detailed information, visit Drug Fact Sheet: Marijuana/Cannabis РDEA.gov, What We Know about Marijuana РCenters for Disease Control and Prevention, and California’s cannabis laws РDepartment of Cannabis Control.

What is the Legal Status of Marijuana in the United States?

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