Marijuana Resource Center: State Laws Related to Marijuana

Since 1996, 23 states and Washington, DC have passed laws allowing smoked marijuana to be used for a variety of medical conditions. It is important to recognize that these state marijuana laws do not change the fact that using marijuana continues to be an offense under Federal law.  Nor do these state laws change the criteria or process for FDA approval of safe and effective medications.

These state laws vary greatly in their criteria and implementation, and many states are experiencing vigorous internal debates about the safety, efficacy, and legality of their marijuana laws. Many local governments are even creating zoning and enforcement ordinances that prevent marijuana dispensaries from operating in their communities. Regulation of marijuana for purported medical use may also exist at the county and city level, in addition to state laws.  

Voters in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington state  also passed initiatives legalizing the sale and distribution of marijuana for adults 21 and older under state law.  District of Columbia voters approved Initiative 71, which permits adults 21 years of age or older to grow and possess (but not sell) limited amounts of marijuana.  There are critical differences in marijuana laws from one state, county, or city to another. For more information, refer to the the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).

It is important to note that Congress has determined that marijuana is a dangerous drug and that the illegal distribution and sale of marijuana is a serious crime.  The Department of Justice (DOJ) is committed to enforcing the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) consistent with these determinations. On August 29, 2013, DOJ issued guidance to Federal prosecutors concerning marijuana enforcement under the CSA.  The Department’s guidance is available on the DOJ Web site, and provides further detail.