It's a weird weed world out there these days, folks. While the federal War on Drugs—including medical marijuana—persists, the cracks seem to be coming faster and faster. Congress is well on its way to forbidding the Drug Enforcement Agency from interfering with medical marijuana operations in states where it's legal. The Department of Health and Human Services recently approved a study on using marijuana to treat post-traumatic stress disorder. And FBI Director James Comey says the agency needs to be able to hire pot smokers for some positions (comments for which he was promptly scolded by a Republican Senator from Alabama).
Meanwhile, culturally, we're seeing all sorts of interesting experiments in legal marijuana: Cannabis cafes; weed-friendly symphony concerts; organizations that grow free marijuana for vets; a food truck for cannabis edibles; clubs that give out free pot to voters.
In February 2014, John K. Ross looked at where all 50 states were in terms of marijuana legalization and decriminalization. Since then, some states have seen pro-pot successes, some have seen failures, and some new bills have cropped up. Google's predictive-search text for "legal pot," "legal weed," "legal marijuana," and "medical marijuana" all starts with "states," which means as far as frequently asked questions are concerned, the big one seems to be where can you do what? Consider this an update on Ross' earlier efforts that aims to sort out the state of legal weed in America circa summer 2014.
In which states is marijuana legal?
That depends on what you mean by legal. Technically, marijuana isn't legal anywhere in America, at least not under federal law—despite what individual states say about it.
This includes medical marijuana. Since 2009, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has been saying that prosecuting patients in states where medical marijuana is legal "is unlikely to be an efficient use of limited federal resources." This doesn't, however, stop the DOJ from prosecuting people periodically, with no particularly noticeable rationale in its selection. In Washington currently, five medical marijuana users face 10 years to life in prison each for growing their own weed.
But okay, okay…
Under what state laws is marijuana legal?
Right now, only two states, Colorado and Washington, have laws permitting the recreational use of marijuana.
Are other states considering legalizing recreational marijuana?
In New Hampshire, the House of Representatives recently voted down a bill to legalize recreational marijuana—despite passing it in January—due to lack of support from the state Senate and Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan. And in Missouri, the primary sponsor of a legalization bill introduced earlier this year ultimately removed the bill from consideration this legislative session.
In Alaska, a recreational marijuana legalization initiative will be on the August 19 primary ballot, while efforts are still underway in Washington, D.C., Oregon, and Vermont to get enough signatures to put legalizing recreational marijuana up for a vote in the fall.
California activists failed to get the signatures needed by April to get a recreational marijuana referendum on the state's November ballot. Marijuana legalization advocates in several other states are directing efforts toward getting the issue on their state ballots in 2016.
Which states currently permit medical marijuana use?
Medical marijauna is now legal, in some form, in 22 states and the District of Columbia. States with legal medical marijuana schemes include: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.
Utah recently passed a bill legalizing medicinal marijuana products with low levels of THC for patients with epilepsy or seizures only.
Which states are currently considering legalizing medical marijuana?
Florida residents will vote on Amendment 2, which would legalize medical marijuana, this fall.
Activists are still gathering signatures to get medical marijuana initiatives placed on the November 2014 ballots in Nebraska and Ohio.
A Tennessee measure to legalize medical marijuana, introduced in January, failed to pass a committee vote in March, though Gov. Bill Haslam did sign a very limited medical marijuana bill into law in May, allowing for a four-year study on the benefits of non-psychoactive cannabis component cannabidiol.
For the fourth year in a row, a West Virginia medical marijuana bill failed to go anywhere before the legislature adjourned in March.
In which states has marijuana been decriminalized?
In addition to the states that have legalized recreational marijuana use, 17 states have "decriminalized" it to some degree, according to the National Association for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). These states are: Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont.
Decriminalization doesn't mean cops totally stop busting people for pot, but it does move the penalties for small amounts closer in line with those for public intoxication or parking infractions, instead of making it a crime legally akin to assault and murder. NORML says that, typically, "decriminalization means no prison time or criminal record for first-time possession of a small amount for personal consumption."
In California, for instance, possession of 28.5 grams or less is considered a civil infraction, punishable with a maximum fine of $100. In New York, possessing 25 grams of marijuana or less can yield a $100 to $250 fine, depending on whether it's a first, second, or third offense. In Mississippi, possessing 30 grams or less yields a fine of $250 on the first offense, but possible jail time (and a fine) for subsequent offenses.
The D.C. Council passed a decriminalization bill in March that would make possessing a small amount of marijuana a civil offense punishable by a $25 fine. But the bill is still awaiting congressional approval, which doesn't look promising.