Legality of cannabis by U.S. jurisdiction

Cannabis remains a Schedule I drug under federal law.
· Some Indian reservations have legalization policies
separate from the states they are located in.
· Cannabis is illegal in all federal enclaves.

In the United States, the use and possession of cannabis is
illegal under federal law for any purpose, by way of the
Controlled Substances Act of 1970. Under the CSA,
cannabis is classified as a Schedule I substance, determined
to have a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical
use – thereby prohibiting even medical use of the drug.[1] At
the state level, however, policies regarding the medical and
recreational use of cannabis vary greatly, and in many states
conflict significantly with federal law.

The medical use of cannabis is legalized (with a doctor's
recommendation) in 33 states, four out of five permanently
inhabited U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia.
Fourteen other states have laws that limit THC content, for
the purpose of allowing access to products that are rich in
cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive component of
cannabis. Although cannabis remains a Schedule I drug, the
Rohrabacher–Farr amendment prohibits federal prosecution
of individuals complying with state medical cannabis laws.

The recreational use of cannabis is legalized in 11 states
(Alaska, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts,
Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington), the
District of Columbia, the Northern Mariana Islands, and
Guam. Another 15 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands have
decriminalized. Commercial distribution of cannabis is
allowed in all jurisdictions where cannabis has been
legalized, except Vermont and the District of Columbia.
Prior to January 2018, the Cole Memorandum provided
some protection against the enforcement of federal law in
states that have legalized, but it was rescinded by former
Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Although the use of cannabis remains federally illegal, some
of its derivative compounds have been approved by the
Food and Drug Administration for prescription use.
Cannabinoid drugs which have received FDA approval are
Marinol (THC), Syndros (THC), Cesamet (nabilone), and
Epidiolex (cannabidiol). For non-prescription use,
cannabidiol derived from industrial hemp is legal at the
federal level but legality (and enforcement) varies by state.
State            Legal Status            Medicinal               Decriminalized         
Alabama       Fully Illegal                   No                               No       
Alaska           Fully Legal                   Yes                              Yes        
Arizona           Mixed                         Yes                              No        
Arkansas         Mixed                         Yes                              No        
California     Fully Legal                    Yes                              Yes       
Colorado      Fully Legal                    Yes                              Yes        
Connecticut    Mixed                         Yes                        Reduced        
Delaware        Mixed                           Yes                        Reduced        
DC                Fully Legal                     Yes                             Yes       
Florida           Mixed                            Yes                             No        
Georgia         Mixed                       CBD Oil                          No        
Hawaii            Mixed                            Yes                       Reduced*        
Idaho             Fully Illegal                     No                             No        
Illinois            Fully Legal*                   Yes                            Yes*        
Indiana          Mixed                       CBD Oil                           No    
Iowa               Mixed                       CBD Oil                           No        
Kansas        Fully Illegal                       No                              No        
Kentucky      Mixed                        CBD Oil                           No        
Louisiana     Mixed                             Yes                              No        
Maine         Fully Legal                       Yes                              Yes        
Maryland     Mixed                             Yes                       Reduced        
Massachusetts   Fully Legal              Yes                              Yes        
Michigan    Fully Legal                       Yes                              Yes        
Minnesota    Mixed                            Yes                       Reduced        
Mississippi  Fully Illegal                     No                        Reduced        
Missouri        Mixed                           Yes                       Reduced      
Montana        Mixed                           Yes                             No        
Nebraska     Fully Illegal                      No                       Reduced        
Nevada        Fully Legal                      Yes                            Yes        
New Hampshire  Mixed                      Yes                       Reduced        
New Jersey        Mixed                       Yes                             No        
New Mexico        Mixed                      Yes                      Reduced       
New York        Mixed                            Yes                     Reduced       
North Carolina  Fully Illegal                No                      Reduced      
North Dakota    Mixed                        Yes                     Reduced        
Ohio              Mixed                             Yes                     Reduced        
Oklahoma     Mixed                             Yes                           No        
Oregon        Fully Legal                       Yes                           Yes       
Pennsylvania    Mixed                          Yes                           No        
Rhode Island   Mixed                           Yes                    Reduced        
South Carolina   Fully Illegal                No                          No        
South Dakota     Fully Illegal                No                          No        
Tennessee      Fully Illegal                      No                          No        
Texas              Mixed                      CBD Oil                       No        
Utah               Mixed                           Yes                          No        
Vermont         Fully Legal                     Yes                         Yes        
Virginia            Mixed                      CBD Oil                       No        
Washington        Fully Legal                Yes                         Yes       
West Virginia        Mixed                      Yes                         No       
Wisconsin        Fully Illegal                   No                         No       
Wyoming        Fully Illegal                    No                          No       
Legalization by State
Skyland Ranch

Cannabis as a medicine was used before the Christian era in
Asia, mainly in India. The introduction of cannabis in the
Western medicine occurred in the midst of the 19th century,
reaching the climax in the last decade of that century, with the
availability and usage of cannabis extracts or tinctures. In the
first decades of the 20th century, the Western medical use
of cannabis significantly decreased largely due to difficulties
to obtain consistent results from batches of plant material of
different potencies. The identification of the chemical
structure of cannabis components and the possibility of
obtaining its pure constituents were related to a significant
increase in scientific interest in such plant, since 1965. This
interest was renewed in the 1990's with the description of
cannabinoid receptors and the identification of an
endogenous cannabinoid system in the brain. A new and more
consistent cycle of the use of cannabis derivatives as
medication begins, since treatment effectiveness and safety
started to be scientifically proven.

Before the Christian Era

Cannabis Sativa (cannabis) is among the earliest plants
cultivated by man. The first evidence of the use of cannabis
was found in China, where archeological and historical
findings indicate that that plant was cultivated for fibers since
B.C. With the fibers obtained from the cannabis stems, the
Chinese manufactured strings, ropes, textiles, and even paper.
Textiles and paper made from cannabis were found in the
tomb of Emperor Wu (104-87 B.C.), of the Han dynasty.

The Chinese also used cannabis fruits as food. These fruits
are small (3 to 5 mm), elliptic, smooth, with a hard shell, and
contain one single seed. The first evidence of the use of these
seeds was found during the Han dynasty (206 B.C. - 220 A.
D.). In the beginning of the Christian Era, with the introduction
of new cultures, cannabis was no longer an important food in
China, although, until today, the seeds are still used for
making kitchen oil in Nepal.

The use of cannabis as a medicine by ancient Chinese was
reported in the world's oldest pharmacopoeia, the pen-ts'ao
ching which was compiled in the first century of this Era, but
based on oral traditions passed down from the time of
Emperor Shen-Nung, who lived during the years 2.700 B.C.
Indications for the use of cannabis included: rheumatic pain,
intestinal constipation, disorders of the female reproductive
system, malaria, and others.  In the beginning of the Christian
Era, Hua T'o, the founder of Chinese surgery (A.D. 110 – 207),
used a compound of the plant, taken with wine, to anesthetize
patients during surgical operations.

The Chinese used mainly the seeds of cannabis for medical
purposes; therefore, it may be assumed that they were
referring to that part of the plant when describing its
medicinal properties. Until today, cannabis seeds continue to
be used as a laxative by Chinese physicians.  It is
acknowledged that the seeds are practically deficient in D9-
tetrahydrocannabinol (D9-THC), which is considered the
plant's main active constituent, and is mainly composed of
essential fatty acids and proteins. Today some of these fatty
acids are considered as having therapeutic effects, such as
the g-linoleic acid, whose topical use is recommended for
eczema and psoriasis, and its oral use for atherosclerosis,
osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and other inflammatory
diseases.  In China, the medical use of cannabis never reached
the importance it did in India.

The first reference to the use of cannabis, as a psychoactive
drug, is also in the pen-ts'ao ching, as observed in one of its
phrases: (the fruit of cannabis)... if taken in excess
will produce visions of devils … over a long term, it makes one
communicate with spirits and lightens one's body.  In spite of
this reference, there are scarce citations of the use of
cannabis as a hallucinogen in ancient Chinese texts. One
possible explanation is that such use was probably
associated to shamanism, a religion of the people from
Central Asia. During the Han dynasty, this religious practice
started to decline in China, and became disbelieved and
increasingly restricted. Ancient texts rarely mentioned
shamanism and, thus, there is no reference to the use of
cannabis as a hallucinogen.  Although shamanism became
gradually more restricted in China, it was rather common in
the Northern nomadic tribes, which may have contributed to
the dissemination of cannabis in Central and Western Asia
and in India.

In India, the use of cannabis was widely disseminated, both as
a medicine and as a recreational drug. Such a broad use may
be due to the fact that cannabis maintained a straight
association with religion, which assigned sacred virtues to the
plant. The Atharva Veda (a collection of sacred texts of
unknown author) mentions cannabis as one of five sacred
plants, referring to it as a source of happiness, donator of joy
and bringer of freedom. Hence, cannabis use became part of
numerous religious rituals in that region.

The plant's psychoactive effects were well-known in India,
possibly due to the way it was prepared for use, which
included at least three preparations. The weakest type, Bhang,
consists of dry leaves from which flowers are carefully
removed. A stronger type, Ganja, is prepared with the female-
plant's flowers. The strongest of them all is the Charas, made
exclusively of the resin that covers female flowers.  These
forms of preparation guarantee the presence of active
cannabinoids. Currently we know that the plant has secreting
hairs that are located mainly on the female-plant's flowers
and, in a smaller amount, on the leaves of its superior third.
Solitary resin glands most often form at the tips of the
trichome stalks. These glands have a considerable amount of
active cannabinoids. Breaking the glands liberates the active

In India, the medical and religious use of cannabis probably
began together around 1000 years B.C.  The plant was used
for innumerous functions, such as: analgesic (neuralgia,
headache, toothache), anticonvulsant (epilepsy, tetanus,
rabies), hypnotic, tranquilizer (anxiety, mania, hysteria),
anesthetic, anti-inflammatory (rheumatism and other
inflammatory diseases), antibiotic (topical use on skin
infections, erysipelas, tuberculosis), antiparasite (internal and
external worms), antispasmodic (colic, diarrhea), digestive,
appetite stimulant, diuretic, aphrodisiac or anaphrodisiac,
antitussive and expectorant (bronchitis, asthma).

Furthermore, cannabis was traditionally considered sacred in
Tibet, although little has been written about its religious or
medicinal use. In Tantric Buddhism, which was developed in
the Himalayas, cannabis was used to facilitate meditation.
Though seldom reported, it is believed that the medical use of
cannabis in Tibet was intense due to the following reasons: the
concepts of Tibetan medicine stem from Hindi medicine;
botany was of great importance in its pharmacopoeia; and,
finally, cannabis was abundant in that region.

Evidence suggests that the Assyrians also knew about the
psychoactive effects of cannabis and used it as incense since
the ninth century B.C. It is also possible that, before the
Christian Era, Assyrians used the plant externally for swellings
and bruises, and internally for depression, impotence, arthritis,
kidney stones, 'female ailment', and for the 'annulment of

In Persia, cannabis was also known before the Christian Era.
The Persians knew about the plants biphasic effect, and made
a clear distinction between its initial euphoric and its late
dysphoric effects.

In Europe, historical and archeological evidence suggests the
presence of cannabis before the Christian Era. It seems the
plant was brought by Scythian invaders, who originated from
Central Asian and reached close to the Mediterranean. In the
year 450 B.C., Herodotus described a Scythian funeral
ceremony, and stated that they inhaled the vapors obtained
from burning cannabis seeds with ritualistic and euphoric
purposes. That description was later confirmed by
archeologists who found charred cannabis seeds in Scythian
tombs in Siberia and Germany.

Reference to the use of cannabis by the Greeks and the
Romans are scarce, suggesting that it was little used by these
people.  In the beginning of the Christian Era, there are two
references of the use of the seed's juice for earache and to
drive worms and insects out of the ears.

Beginning of the Christian Era to the 18th century

In this period, the medical use of cannabis remained very
intense in India and was then spread to the Middle East and
Africa. In Arabia, well-known physicians mentioned cannabis in
their medical compendiums, as Avicena, in the year 1000 A.D.
8 Muslim texts mention the use of cannabis as a diuretic,
digestive, anti-flatulent, 'to clean the brain', and to soothe pain
of the ears. In 1464, Ibn al-Badri reported that the epileptic
son of the caliph's chamberlain was treated with the plant's
resin, and stated: it (cannabis) cured him completely, but he
became an addict who could not for a moment be without the

Cannabis is known in Africa at least since the 15th century,
and its use was, possibly, introduced by Arab traders,
somehow connected to India. This is evidenced by the
similarity of the terms used for preparing the plant in Africa
and India. In Africa, the plant was used for snake bite, to
facilitate childbirth, malaria, fever, blood poisoning, anthrax,
asthma, and dysentery.

In the Americas, the use of cannabis probably began in South
America. In the 16th century, the plant's seeds reached Brazil;
brought by African slaves, especially those from Angola, and
its use was considerably common among Blacks in the
Northeastern rural area. Most synonyms for cannabis in Brazil
(maconha, diamba, liamba, and others) have their origin in the
Angolan language. There are reports of the use of cannabis in
that region's popular religious rituals, especially the 'Catimbó',
which includes cult to African deities and presumes the value
of the plant for magical practice and treatment of diseases. In
the rural environment, there are reports of the use of cannabis
for toothache and menstrual cramps.

In Europe, during this period, cannabis was cultivated
exclusively for fibers. Muslims introduced the manufacture of
paper from cannabis, in 1150, first in Spain then in Italy.  
Cannabis descriptions are found in many books about plants
written in this period, which clearly state, since the mid 18th
century, the distinction between male and female plants
(previously described in a Chinese ideogram in the beginning
of the Christian Era).  References to the medical use of
cannabis are scarce. Europeans may have known about the
plant's medical use in the Middle East and Africa, but they
confused it with opium.

Western medicine in the 19th and 20th centuries

There are some reports, from the early 19th century, about the
use of cannabis by European physicians, especially regarding
the use of the seeds or homeopathic medications. However,
the effective introduction of cannabis in Western medicine
occurred in the midst 19th century through the works of
Willian B. O'Shaughnessy, an Irish physician, and by the book
by Jacques-Joseph Moreau, a French psychiatrist.

O'Shaughnessy served in India with the British for several
years and made his first contact with cannabis use in that
country. He studied the literature on the plant, described
many popular preparations, evaluated its toxicity in animals,
and, later, he tested its effect on patients with different
pathologies. In 1839, he published the work: 'On the
preparations of the Indian hemp, or gunjah', which, in the first
paragraph, establishes a panorama of plant use:

'The narcotic effects of Hemp are popularly known in the
south of Africa, South America, Turkey, Egypt, Middle East
Asia, India, and the adjacent territories of the Malays,
Burmese, and Siamese. In all these countries, Hemp is used in
various forms, by the dissipated and depraved, as the ready
agent of a pleasing intoxication. In the popular medicine of
these nations, we find it extensively employed for a multitude
of affections. But in Western Europe, its use either as a
stimulant or as a remedy is equally unknown'.

In his book, O'Shaughnessy describes various successful
human experiments using cannabis preparations for
rheumatism, convulsions, and mainly for muscular spasms of
tetanus and rabies.

Moreau used cannabis with a different purpose. He was an
assistant physician at the Charenton Asylum, near Paris, and
a common therapeutic practice at the time was to accompany
psychiatric patients in long trips to exotic and distant
countries. During those trips he observed that the use of
hashish (cannabis resin) was very common among Arabs, and
he was impressed with the substance's surprising effects. In
Paris, around 1840, Moreau decided to experiment,
systematically, different cannabis preparations; first on
himself and later on his students. As an outcome, in 1845 he
published the book 'Du Hachisch et de l'Alienation Mentale:
Etudes Psychologiques', with one of the most complete
descriptions of the acute effects of cannabis.  Moreau clearly
states his purpose: '...I saw in hashish, more specifically in its
effects on mental abilities, a powerful and unique method to
investigate the genesis of mental illness'.

These two types of medical interest for cannabis, concerning
its psychoactive effects (as an experimental
psychotomimetic) as well as its therapeutic use, persisted
through the years. O'Shaughnessy and Moreau's
contributions had a great impact on Western medicine,
especially due to the scarcity of therapeutic options for
infectious diseases such as rabies, cholera, and tetanus. The
medical use of the drug spread from England and France
reaching all Europe and then North America. In 1860, the first
clinical conference about cannabis took place in America,
organized by the Ohio State Medical Society.

In the second half of the 19th century, over 100 scientific
articles were published in Europe and the United States about
the therapeutic value of cannabis. The climax of the medical
use of cannabis by Western medicine occurred in the late
19th and early 20th century. Various laboratories marketed
cannabis extracts or tinctures, such as Merck (Germany),
Burroughs-Wellcome (England), Bristol-Meyers Squibb
(United States), Parke-Davis (United States), and Eli Lilly
(United States).

The medical indications of cannabis, in the beginning of the
20th century, were summarized in Sajous's Analytic
Cyclopedia of Practical Medicine (1924) in three areas:

1) Sedative or Hypnotic: in insomnia, senile insomnia,
melancholia, mania, delirium tremens, chorea, tetanus, rabies,
hay fever, bronchitis, pulmonary tuberculosis, coughs,
paralysis agitans, exophtalmic goiter, spasm of the bladder,
and gonorrhea.

2) Analgesic: in headaches, migraine, eye-strain, menopause,
brain tumors, tic douloureux, neuralgia, gastric ulcer,
gastralgia (indigestion), tabes, multiple neuritis, pain not due
to lesions, uterine disturbances, dysmenorrhea, chronic
inflammation, menorrhagia, impending abortion, postpartum
hemorrhage, acute rheumatism, eczema, senile pruritus,
tingling, formication and numbness of gout, and for relief of
dental pain.

3) Other uses: to improve appetite and digestion, for the
'pronounced anorexia following exhausting diseases', gastric
neuroses, dyspepsia, diarrhea, dysentery, cholera, nephritis,
hematuria, diabetes mellitus, cardiac palpitation, vertigo,
sexual atony in the female, and impotence in the male.

Decline and rediscovery

In the first decades of the 20th century, the Western medical
use of cannabis significantly decreased. This may have
occurred, among other factors, because of the difficulty to
obtain replicable effects, due to the extreme varying efficacy
of different samples of the plant. At that time, the active
principle of cannabis had not yet been isolated and the drug
was used in the form of tinctures or extracts whose power
was dependent on different factors, such as origin, age, and
mode of preparation. In addition, various medications
appeared at the end of the 19th century, with known efficacy
for the treatment of the main indications of cannabis.
Vaccines were developed for various infectious diseases, such
as tetanus; effective analgesics such as aspirin appeared  and
hypodermic syringes allowed the injectable use of morphine;
and, as a narcotic and sedative, cannabis was rivaled by
substances such as chloral hydrate, paraldehyde, and

Finally, many legal restrictions limited the medical use and
experimentation of cannabis. In the United States, as the
result of a campaign of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, the
Marihuana Tax Act law was passed in 1937. Under this Act,
anyone using the plant was required to register and pay a tax
of a dollar an ounce (28.35 g), for medical purposes, and
100 dollars an ounce for any other use. Despite the low value
for medical use, the non-payment of this tax, however,
resulted in a $2000 dollar fine and/or 5 years
imprisonment. This law brought difficulties for the use of the
plant due to the excessive paperwork and the risk of severe
punishment. When cannabis transaction regulations, including
prescriptions, were transferred to the tribute area, this law
circumvented a decision of the Supreme Court which gave
the States the right to control commercial transactions and,
in practice, meant banning the use of cannabis in the whole
American territory. Cannabis was removed from the American
pharmacopoeia in 1941.

In the second half of the 20th century, cannabis reached
great social importance due to the explosion of its
consumption for hedonistic purposes. Until that time, in the
West, the hedonistic use of the plant was limited to small
groups. In Europe, groups of intellectuals gathered to use the
drug. Descriptions of this use may be found in novels by
20th century French writers, such as Gautier and Boudelaire.
In the Americas, this practice was relatively common among
the Black in the rural area of Northeastern Brazil since the
16th century, who would meet on weekends to use the drug in
groups. This use was later passed on to fishermen of the San
Francisco River and by sea to the coastal cities. In the early
20th century, the use of cannabis in Brazil remained
restricted to small low-socioeconomic groups, and was known
as the 'opium of the poor'.  In Mexico, cannabis was also used
by the most underprivileged population and it was through
Mexican immigrants that its use, for recreation, reached the
United States in the first decades of the 20th century. Until
the 1950's, in the United States, cannabis use was restricted
to the neighborhoods of Blacks and Hispanic immigrants.

Since the 1960's, the recreational use of cannabis rapidly
spread among the younger ranges of the population
throughout the Western world. In the United States, the
percentage of young adults that had used cannabis, at least
once, went from 5%, in 1967, to 44%, 49%, 68%, and 64%, in
1971, 1975, 1980, and 1982, respectively.  This use remains
high until today.  In 1964, the chemical structure of D9-THC
was identified by Gaoni and Mechoulam, which contributed
to a proliferation of studies about the active constituents of

The startling boost in cannabis consumption, which intensified
its social importance, along with the better knowledge of its
chemical composition (which made it possible to obtain its
pure constituents) contributed to a significant increase in
scientific interest for cannabis, as of 1965. The number of
publications about cannabis reached their peak in the early
1970's. In this period, a Brazilian research group, led by
Carlini, had a great contribution, especially about the
interactions of D9-THC with other cannabinoids.  Since then,
Carlini has been developing efforts for the realignment of
public policies concerning cannabis control.  After the middle
of 1970's, the number of publications started to slowly
decline during the following two decades. The interest in
studies about cannabis was renewed in the early 1990's, with
the description and cloning of specific receptors for the
cannabinoids in the nervous system and the subsequent
isolation of anandamide, an endogenous cannabinoid.  
Afterwards, the number of publications about cannabis has
been continuously growing, attesting the great interest in
research involving the herb.

With the growth of scientific interest for cannabis, its
therapeutic effects are being once again studied, this time
using more accurate scientific methods. There are studies, in
different phases, about the therapeutic effects of D9-THC in
conditions such as: epilepsy, insomnia, vomits, spasms, pain,
glaucoma, asthma, inappetence, Tourette syndrome, and
others. Among the therapeutic indications of D9-THC the
following are considered close to being proven: anti-emetic,
stimulant of appetite, analgesic, and in symptoms of Multiple
Sclerosis.  Other cannabinoids are also under investigation,
such as Canabidiol (CBD), which has evidence for therapeutic
effects in epilepsy, insomnia, anxiety, inflammations, brain
damage (as a neuroprotector), psychoses, and others.  
However, cannabis products must be used cautiously since
some studies suggest that early-onset cannabis use can
induce cognitive deficits and apparently acts as a risk factor
for the onset of psychosis among vulnerable youths.

At the beginning of 2005, a multinational pharmaceutical
laboratory received the approval in Canada, and is pleading
authorization in the United Kingdom and the European Union,
to market a medication containing D9-THC and CBD for the
relief of neuropathic pain in patients with multiple sclerosis.

Thus, a new cycle begins for the use of cannabis derivatives as
medication, this time more consistently than in the past. The
structures of chemical compounds derived from cannabis are
now known, the mechanisms of their action in the nervous
system are being elucidated with the discovery of an
endogenous cannabinoid system, and treatment effectiveness
and safety are being scientifically proven.