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11/8 UPDATE: Congratulations California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada! Adult use legalization is great news. You can now legally grow up to six marijuana plants at home. Also a big up to Montana, North Dakota, Arkansas and Florida for getting a medical program! Be sure to buy some marijuana seeds here so you can start growing as soon as the new laws become active!
...end of update
It’s no surprise that the marijuana laws across the United States differ significantly. Even in states where it is legal (such as Colorado), marijuana remains illegal in the eyes of the federal government. So what are the laws actually like in the US? And where do all of these differing laws come from? Let’s take a look at the past and present marijuana laws in the United States.
Federal marijuana laws
In the eyes of the US government, marijuana is still a dangerous, illegal drug. Under the Controlled Substances Act, there is no acknowledged difference between marijuana used for medical or for recreational purposes. The laws against marijuana are the same as those against dangerous and addictive drugs such as heroin, cocaine, and meth.
Not only are the laws the same, marijuana is even classified the same -- it is a “Schedule I drug.” This means it is highly addictive and has no medical uses. Because of this classification, doctors, and other health professionals are not allowed to prescribe marijuana for medical use.
Technically, federal law enforcement entities may prosecute people who are using medical marijuana that is allowed under their state laws. That being said, Congress declared in 2014 and 2015 that it would no longer go after those using medical marijuana. This conflict, between state and federal law, is far from solved.
The state legalization movement
At the time of writing, 29 states, as well as the District of Columbia, allow medical marijuana to be used in some way or another. Laws vary from strictly regulated with few, very specific ailments allowed (such as in Minnesota), to a full allowance of marijuana in a recreational context, but with some restrictions on the amount and number of plants you can possess (such as in Colorado).
Interestingly enough, the legalization of medical marijuana is one of the few big bipartisan issues that exist today. There are numerous Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, and Independents involved in trying to legalize marijuana on their state levels as well as on the federal level.
While the states are pushing federal action, they haven’t always had the most logical laws on marijuana, however. Several states, perhaps most notably Texas, have a “marijuana tax stamp” law that says that, even though marijuana is illegal, people who do have it must purchase a state-issued stamp that is then placed on the illegal product. Of course, people rarely adhere to such laws, given the fact that they are afraid of such a purchase incriminating themselves. For this reason, the laws are presumably another way of tacking on an additional charge (tax evasion) to those who are caught with the illegal substance.
Additionally, in the state of New York, you can’t be arrested for possessing marijuana if it is in your pocket and is in a small amount. If you outwardly display it, however, by taking it out of your pocket or by smoking it in front of a police officer, then you could be arrested. This has led to a number of police officers demanding that people take marijuana out of their pockets so that they can arrest them for displaying it.
The history of marijuana laws
The truth is, there is a long and differing history surrounding marijuana in the United States. It certainly has not always been considered a dangerous, addictive drug without any medical use in the eyes of the law. In fact, from the 1600s to the late 1800s, it was actually encouraged to grow as much marijuana as possible. Hemp production was used for many useful things, including clothing, sails, and rope. By the year 1619, Virginia required every farmer to grow cannabis in addition to their crops of choice. In the states of Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, marijuana could actually legally be used in place of money.
The widespread growing of marijuana continued until the end of the Civil War, at which point numerous imports were used in place of hemp for a variety of products. That wasn’t the end of marijuana in the United States, however, as cannabis became a valuable medicinal ingredient to a variety of medicines. There were no restrictions on its sales.
The first regulation came about in 1906 when cannabis was required to be clearly labeled before being sold over the counter. It wasn’t used recreationally in the United States until the early 1900s when introduced by incoming Mexican immigrants. A growing fear of the new foreigners became associated with a fear of marijuana. It didn’t help that the Great Depression followed shortly after that, adding to more fear and resentment of newcomers and their use of marijuana. Studies were done that linked crime and violence with marijuana, and by the year 1931, most of the country had outlawed the herb.
Hemp became useful again in the 1940s (during World War II), when materials were scarce, and Americans were once again encouraged to grow the plant to help provide those much-needed materials for a number of products. Seeds were even handed out. Even so, that didn’t stop the stricter sentencing laws of the 1950s. Suddenly people who possessed marijuana could be sentenced to jail for years.
Despite all this, the very first state to legalize the medical use of Marijuana was California in 1996. The ball has continued to roll since then. Check the links below to find out more about marijuana laws in your state.
State by state laws
Alabama | Alaska | Arizona | Arkansas | California | Colorado | Connecticut | Delaware | Florida | Georgia | Hawaii | Idaho | Illinois | Indiana | Iowa | Kansas | Kentucky | Louisiana | Maine | Maryland | Massachusetts | Michigan | Minnesota | Mississippi | Missouri | Montana | Nebraska | Nevada | New Hampshire | New Jersey | New Mexico | New York | North Carolina | North Dakota | Ohio | Oklahoma | Oregon | Pennsylvania | Rhode Island | South Carolina | South Dakota | Tennessee | Texas | Utah | Vermont | Virginia | Washington | Washington DC | West Virginia | Wisconsin | Wyoming