Understanding the Law: Federal vs State Cannabis Legalization

Cannabis Prohibition History

While not all states have legalized recreational cannabis consumption, the multi-billion pot industry is still on an all-time high. The establishment of more cannabis dispensaries—and related businesses—have paved the way for more job opportunities. While the demand for weed, be it for medical or recreational consumption is steadily rising.

Undeniably, there’s still a bit of confusion regarding cannabis legalization. If you are a cannabis cultivator or an entrepreneur, it’s likely that you still have some apprehensions with respect to understanding the law.

And this may be because the authority that grants you the privilege to operate is based solely on state laws. Particularly, in selling, possessing, distributing and cultivating cannabis.

In this article, we will help you understand the Federal and State cannabis legalization laws. We will also discuss how these laws can affect you and how to protect yourself—so read on!

Federal Marijuana Laws

On a Federal level, mere possession, sale or distribution of cannabis is illegal. This is because cannabis is categorized as a Schedule I substance—declared to have a high potential for abuse and cannot be used for medical purposes. This means that whether for medical or recreational use, the current federal law declares marijuana—illegal.

Thus, even if you are residing in a state where the use or cultivation of marijuana is legal, like the State of Nevada, you can’t be too sure that you are not violating the Federal Marijuana Laws. However, so long as you are compliant with your state cannabis laws and do not engage in interstate commerce—you cannot be prosecuted.

It’s important to note, however, that some states legalized marijuana for medical purposes only and not for recreational consumption. There are also limitations with regards to how much you can possess or sell, where you can cultivate or consume it, how much THC content is allowed, and among others. So it’s best to check what is legal in your state.

To be safe, you may visit NORML.ORG to guide you about cannabis laws and penalties in your state. If you or someone you know is arrested for marijuana laws violation, you should employ the aid of the best criminal defense attorney Los Angeles. Consult a lawyer too if you need legal advice especially if you are a cultivator or operating a cannabis business.

Marijuana Laws by State

As mentioned above, several states have already legalized medical and recreational consumption of weed. However, each state has its own policies so you need to be careful and stay informed about what’s legal in your area.

To date, 11 states have legalized both medical and recreational marijuana use. This includes the District of Columbia, and inhabited territories—Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.

While 14 other states allowed recreational use but with limited THC content. On the other hand, 33 states legalized cannabis for medical use only and must be coupled with a doctor’s recommendation. Meanwhile, there are 15 states, which includes the US Virgin Islands, that decriminalized the use of cannabis.

For commercial distribution of cannabis, it is allowed for all states that legalized marijuana, except the District of Columbia and Vermont. For more detailed information about the legality of marijuana by US jurisdiction, check Wikipedia’s guide.

How the difference in State and Federal laws affect legal cannabis cultivators and how to protect yourself?

The difference between State and Federal laws had caused a tremendous impact on legal cannabis cultivators. If the conflict is not resolved, then, the economic growth of the cannabis cultivators will be hampered and they will have a hard time to comply with these different rules.

Tax Payment

Businesses in the cannabis industry do not have the incentives that other businesses enjoy.

This is because the US Tax Code prohibits marijuana businesses from deducting certain expenses. These include marketing, transportation, and training.


The use of marijuana for recreational purposes is allowed if done within the comfort of your own home. However, this cannot be true if you are only renting a house. Your landlord can prohibit the use of the illegal substance on his property. You can get evicted!


Another challenge confronting cannabis cultivators is in banking. A lot of banks still don’t trust cannabis businesses that is why they’re having a hard time getting bank accounts and loans because of Federal regulation guidelines.

Protecting yourself

The best way to protect yourself before getting into a cannabis business is to navigate and learn the intricacies between these two clashing laws—state and federal laws.

Know its gray areas and the right course of action to take in case of a violation. Finally, keep yourself abreast with the latest marijuana laws developments and stay informed.

Key Takeaways

Note that currently, the rules and regulations provided in the state laws conflict with the federal laws. As of this writing, cannabis is illegal for any use on Federal level. To be on the safe side, research about your state’s marijuana laws or check Norml.org.

If you are still confused, or you need legal help and advice, seek assistance from a lawyer.

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