The District of Columbia and seven other states with legalized marijuana are fighting an uphill battle as the possession of marijuana remains a federal offense punishable with up to one year of incarceration and up to a $1,000 fine. Currently, the states that have legalized marijuana for recreational use include:
- New York
Twenty-nine states have legalized marijuana for medicinal use, and many states have decriminalized the possession of the substance. These conflicting marijuana laws vary from state to state, so it’s crucial to stay up-to-date on each area’s legislative changes.
Legalized Recreational Marijuana
Currently, one in five Americans reside in a state with legalized recreational marijuana laws. The first two states to legalize recreational marijuana in 2012 were Colorado and Washington. California led the charge in pursuing medical legalization as far back as 1996, and the state further legalized the use and possession of up to one ounce of recreational marijuana in 2016. Alaska legalized the use, possession and transportation of up to one ounce of marijuana in 2015. Oregon, Nevada and Washington all allow up to one ounce. Massachusetts allows it’s residents to grow up to twelve plants in their homes. Maine’s unique perspective allows for a total of 2.5 ounces of recreational weed.
Legalized Medical Marijuana
Some states have been reluctant to allow recreational marijuana but accepting of scientific evidence supporting the medical benefits of ingesting the plant. Many of these states have removed the criminal penalties associated with using, possessing, cultivating or transporting marijuana as long as the individual has a medical marijuana license and is registered with the state’s patient database. States with legalized marijuana for medical use include:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- West Virginia
- Washington, D.C. also allows medical marijuana use.
How “Legal” is Legalized Pot?
Legalization of marijuana means making non-punishable by law the:
- use of the substance
The terms used by marijuana advocates like “legalization” are somewhat misleading because of the nature of state and federal laws in America. Even when marijuana is deemed “legal” by the state of Colorado, a user can still be punished based on the authority of federal laws that demonize the drug.
The United States Constitution includes a supremacy clause as part of article VI that clearly states the federal government ‘wins’ when in conflict with state law. As unreal as it sounds, a person in a marijuana-friendly state could either face no charge or a year in jail for the same offense based on whether they are stopped by a state police officer or a federal one. Skeptics can look to the case of Gerald Duval Jr. for further confirmation of this. Gerald owned a medical marijuana farm that was allowed based on Michigan state law. Despite the state’s law, the federal government pressed charges and Gerald now faces a 10 year jail sentence for breaking federal marijuana laws.
Seven states and the District of Columbia have already legalized recreational marijuana at the state level. More than half of all the states have legalized medical pot possession. Marijuana advocates can celebrate their progress, but more needs to be done to completely legalize and decriminalize the drug. Until the federal government changes its stance on pot, individuals who choose to smoke in states with legalized marijuana remain at-risk for prosecution.