Marijuana use is illegal under federal law, but the outlook has relaxed as more than a dozen states have passed laws allowing for medical marijuana use over the past 15 years. Many other states, such as California and Massachusetts, have also passed laws decriminalizing use of small amounts, making such acts civil offenses punishable by a fine.
But because of federal law, many states which have passed medical marijuana laws find themselves having to wrangle with the federal government over implementation, and thus far the Federal government has been often reluctant to back down from federal enforcement, or reform federal drug laws.
State Laws Trend Toward Medical Marijuana Legalization
Sixteen states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for medical use, starting with California in 1996.
There was a significant shift in Oct. 2009, when Attorney General Eric Holder announced that raiding medical marijuana facilities complying with the law would be the lowest priority for U.S. law enforcement agents.
While many critics argue the Obama administration has failed to live up to that, many states and organizations are moving further in that direction on their own. The American Medical Association and governors have made calls to reclassify the drug. In December 2011, governors of the states of Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington State asked the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to conduct a review of cannabis research and reclassify marijuana as a Schedule II controlled substance.
Marijuana is currently classified by the federal government as a Schedule I controlled substance, the same category as heroin, LSD and other drugs which are viewed as having a high likelihood of addiction. The proposed Schedule II category is the same one used for drugs such as cocaine and morphine, which are classified for medical uses.
The governors seek the new classification because they have laws allowing for medical marijuana, but unlike some other states, they have not decriminalized use of small amounts of the drug, putting users at risk of prosecution.
Federal enforcement vs. state medical marijuana law liberalization will be a continuing issue for years to come.
Times are changing rapidly when it comes to marijuana use in the United States. Your state now makes all the difference in whether use is considered a crime or a civil infraction and whether if caught, you face potential jail time or a simple fine.