Where is Recreational Marijuana Legal?

Recreational Pot and the Law

As of April 2016, marijuana was legalized in four states: Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Alaska. Recreational pot is also legal in the District of Columbia. Marijuana legalization generally allows adults to possess and consume the plant for personal use. But marijuana laws are far from simple or uniform.

This is a complex, constantly evolving area of the law. You should stay abreast of the law and carefully research marijuna statutes in your state and states you visit in order to avoid getting arrested or cited for marijuana possession.

Marijuana statutes can vary tremendously. In Colorado, Oregon, Alaska and the District of Columbia, adults may grow their own marijuana plants. There are, however, limits on the number of plants that can be grown.

The state of Washington, meanwhile, makes any cultivation for non-medical use a felony. The District of Columbia allows users to make a gift of cannabis to other adults, but doing so in exchange for money is illegal. 

So when it comes to marijuana laws... it's complicated. Note that marijuana possession remains a federal crime. 

At the federal level, all forms of naturally-derived cannabis remain Schedule I drugs according to the Controlled Substances Act. This means the federal government and the Drug Enforcement Administration can clamp down on its use on federal properties, including military bases and national parks. This includes parks and bases located in marijuana-legal states. Likewise, the federal law applies to the importation of marijuana from other countries as well as interstate commerce. It is also still illegal to ship marijuana through the U.S. Postal Service. 

Decriminalization vs. Legalization of Cannabis

Legalization of marijuana means users can possess, cultivate or use marijuana in accordance with their state laws. Decriminalization doesn't outright permit use, but it commonly negates or reduces fines for low-level offenses.

As of April, 2016, 20 states and D.C. have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. For instance, Philadelphia got rid of penalties for possessing small amounts of marijuana via executive order. Other cities, like New Orleans, have given police officers discretion whether to cite offenders for minor possession.

Those who cultivate large amounts of cannabis, however, could face more serious charges. Unless they are growing as part of a recognized/authorized medical marijuana program, they run the risk of being charged for cultivating with intent to distribute or growing within a certain distance of a school zone. You should be certain you are growing within the limits of your local laws. 

Legalization of Marijuana 

In 2013, the U.S. Department of Justice announced its intention not to pursue enforcement action in states that had legalized possession. It reserved, however, the right to take action in states where production, distribution and possession were legalized based on its own discretion and standards.

All states retain limits on how much processed marijuana, hash and live plant material an individual can possess as a recreational user or approved medical patient. These limits often coincide with the level of penalties people face for violations, and they also include restrictions on what kind of behavior is deemed legal. 

Marijuana Legal States

As of April 2016, medical marijuana laws exist or are pending in:

  1. Alaska 
  2. Arizona 
  3. California
  4. Colorado 
  5. Connecticut 
  6. Delaware 
  7. District of Columbia 
  8. Guam 
  9. Hawaii 
  10. Illinois 
  11. Maine
  12. Maryland
  13. Massachusetts 
  14. Michigan 
  15. Minnesota 
  16. Montana 
  17. Nevada
  18. New Hampshire 
  19. New Jersey 
  20. New Mexico 
  21. New York 
  22. Oregon 
  23. Rhode Island 
  24. Vermont 
  25. Washington

These states differ on what conditions doctors may prescribe medical marijuana for. Some potential uses include:

  • Multiple sclerosis muscle spasms
  • Anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Cancer chemotherapy nausea
  • HIV, nerve pain and other chronic illness-related cachexia
  • Crohn's disease

Cultivation and sale laws vary from state to state and among Native American sovereign nations. Most states with pro-marijuana laws also let individual municipalities restrict local activity to some degree.

Medical marijuana and recreational marijuana come from the same plants. But medical marijuana is typically associated with stricter origin controls. States that have medical marijuana laws typically enforce rules for testing and confirming the variety, composition, potency and quality of the medical products. 

Those who cultivate for medical purposes are typically designated as caregivers for patients. They may be limited in the number of patients they can grow for, the places they can use to grow, the kinds of marijuana they can grow, the municipal and state taxes they have to pay, and whether or not they need to register. Some medical states permit patients to act as caregivers for themselves and other patients.

The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.

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