Everything You Need to Know About Cannabis Laws and Regulations in the USA


Only a few are aware that millions of individuals in the United States of America make use of cannabis in moderation every month with zero problems. However, reports about the harmful physical and mental health issues linked with long-term or heavy, regular cannabis use are emerging. Moreover, existing legal markets in the United States make things somewhat more challenging by making high-potency cannabis seeds for sale and cannabis products available to adult consumers.

This makes it confusing as most people can’t quickly draw the line between responsible cannabis usage and abuse. Knowing what is legal and what is not, especially regarding cannabis, is highly crucial. This is because several states’ laws differ considerably from federal law. Furthermore, many states’ laws even differ from each other.

Therefore, here’s what you need to know about cannabis laws and regulations in the United States of America.

Cannabis is a schedule I controlled substance

Cannabis remains a schedule I controlled substance, a federal status it has retained since the emergence of the Controlled Substance Act (CSA) of 1970. The Act contends that cannabis has the following:

  • An incredibly high potential for abuse
  • Lacks a tolerated safety umbrella for use under medical supervision
  • Zero accepted medical use within the United States

Federal laws may have prohibited the possession and distribution of cannabis within the United States – except for the purpose of research – but massive changes in state policies and laws have occurred over the past two decades. 

For instance, as of May 2022, up to 19 states, as well as the District of Columbia, have officially legalized adult usage of ‘recreational’ cannabis markets. In addition, about 18 states permit the use of cannabis that contains more than trace amounts of THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), the primary psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, only for medicinal purposes.

Approximately ten states only allow cannabis with low THC, i.e., less than or equal to 0.3 percent, to be sold for medicinal purposes. Public support for legalizing the adult use of cannabis is now at an all-time high of almost 70 percent.

Cannabis retains its Schedule I status, but the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment forbids the federal prosecution of Americans complying with state medical cannabis laws.

The legality of medical cannabis use

The medical use of this controlled substance is legal only with a physician’s recommendation in 37 states, the District of Columbia, as well as 4 out of 5 permanently inhabited territories within the United States.

Other states – up to 11– have laws limiting the psychoactive THC to allow express access to products rich in CBD (cannabidiol).

Recreational use of cannabis

About 19 states have legalized the recreational use of cannabis, including the District of Columbia, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands. Twelve states, as well as the United States Virgin Islands, have decriminalized the use of cannabis. This means that using or possessing small amounts of cannabis within these areas is illegal but subject to civil penalties, such as small fines similar to penalties for minor traffic violations, instead of a criminal punishment like incarceration.

The commercial distribution of this controlled substance has been officially legalized in every jurisdiction where cannabis possession has been legalized except for the District of Columbia. Additionally, the personal cultivation of cannabis for recreational use is permitted within these jurisdictions except for New Jersey and Washington State.

Approval of cannabis-derived compounds

The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has approved a few cannabis-derived compounds for prescription use or purposes. Some of the cannabinoid drugs with the FDA’s seal of approval include:

  • Syndros (THC)
  • Marinol (THC)
  • Epidiolex (CBD)
  • Cesamet (nabilone)

But for the non-prescription use of cannabis, delta-8-THC and CBD obtained from industrial hemp are perfectly legal at the federal level. However, enforcement and legality vary from one state to another.

Complications associated with the regulation, decriminalization, and legalization of cannabis

In reality, the legal situation that surrounds cannabis is still complicated. This is despite the significant change in the legal status of hemp and its derivatives.

The Food and Drugs Administration still retains its official authority for regulating therapeutic products obtained from cannabis, including CBD and THC. Any use of cannabis for diagnosing diseases – or their symptoms – or treatment must pass through new drug approval, just like any other medicine.

Moreover, the FDA decrees that no THC- or CBD-containing products or medicines should be marketed as dietary supplements. Such products require drug submissions, reviews, as well as approval.

This is the primary reason cannabis is only legal for medical use in 37 states, the District of Columbia, and 4 United States territories. 

Nevertheless, more and more states are on track to legalize the use and possession of cannabis for recreational and medical purposes. It is believed that the federal government will review and revise its current stand or legal management of cannabis just for clarity. But each state will continue managing local requirements as they see fit.

As you can see, the legalization or use of cannabis varies from one state to another, even though they are under federal laws. Taking note of the points highlighted above will prevent you from getting into trouble with the law in regions or jurisdictions where cannabis is not fully approved for use recreationally or medicinally.

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