Cannabis law is changing rapidly almost everywhere in the United States. The drug is now legal for adult-use in 15 states and three territories, while another 36 states and 4 territories allow some form of medical marijuana.

Here are some of the most commonly asked questions about cannabis and federal law.

IS MARIJUANA ADDICTIVE?

Yes and no. Yes, cannabis has a slight tendency to cause chemical addiction. But this dependence is neither as severe nor as common as addiction to alcohol, heroin, cigarettes, and other common recreational drugs. Roughly 9 percent of long-term marijuana users find they cannot stop using the drug even when it negatively impacts their lives, while rates for other addictive substances are much higher.

HOW MANY PEOPLE USE MARIJUANA?

Fifty-five million American adults have used marijuana in the last year, while nearly half of Americans claimed to have used marijuana at some point in their lifetime. A 2019 Gallup survey reports that the likelihood of marijuana use varies significantly by age, gender, location and political ideology. Another survey discovered that one in eight adults are avid marijuana users.

IS THE RATE OF MARIJUANA USE INCREASING?

Yes. Regular use rates have climbed from less than 6 percent of Americans in 2007 to about 12 percent today. That growth roughly tracks the increasing legalization and destigmatization of cannabis in the United States.

WHAT IS LEGALIZATION?

The term “legalization” refers to decisions by state governments to allow and regulate the cultivation, sale, and possession of marijuana for recreation. Fifteen states have legalized adult-use.

WHAT IS DECRIMINALIZATION?

Decriminalization is the removal of criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana. Instead of jail time, violators face only a small civil fine. The drug remains illegal, however, with cultivation and sale treated as crimes.

WHAT IS MEDICAL MARIJUANA?

Medical marijuana laws allow the cultivation and use of cannabis only for medicinal purposes. Some states permit “whole plant” medical marijuana, which includes use of any part of the plant, including the intoxicating chemical THC. Other states allow only use of non-intoxicating CBD. In 2020, 36 states had medical marijuana programs in place.

WHO PAYS THE PRICE OF ANTI-MARIJUANA LAWS?

Despite common conceptions, the vast majority of federal and state prisoners in America are behind bars for crimes that don’t involve cannabis. Less than 1 percent of state inmates are first-time marijuana offenders while more than 99 percent of federal inmates jailed on drug convictions are there for serious trafficking offenses. Still, those numbers add up to a lot of Americans imprisoned and tagged with permanent records for no crime more serious than burning a plant. What’s more, there are deep racial disparities in arrest rates, meaning Black people suffer the worst consequences of the war on marijuana.

WHY DOES THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT BAN MARIJUANA?

Marijuana use is currently illegal and punishable under federal law. In December 2020, The House of Representatives approved legislation that would decriminalize marijuana and put an end to injustices caused by the War on Drugs. This marked the first time a chamber of Congress voted on federal marijuana decriminalization. The MORE Act would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and decriminalize adult-use on a federal level. Though, it is unlikely to pass the Republican-controlled senate.

WHAT IS THE GOVERNMENT’S POSITION ON MEDICAL MARIJUANA?

The federal government takes conflicting positions on medical cannabis. Congress has enacted laws that protect patients in states where MMJ is legal, but federal law enforcement agencies refuse to acknowledge marijuana’s medical usefulness or legitimate patient rights. These positions are likely to liberalize as reform continues to spread.

AM I ALLOWED TO SMOKE MARIJUANA IN PUBLIC?

No. There is no state, federal, or other jurisdiction in the United States that allows public consumption of marijuana in any form, including edibles and other infused products. All states that allow recreational cannabis use have enacted laws banning public consumption as a civil offense, while public use in other states or on federal land is a crime.

CAN I CULTIVATE MY OWN MARIJUANA?

This depends on your age and state’s laws. Medical marijuana patients may legally grow marijuana in many states, but rules vary widely.

SHOULD I SMOKE AND DRIVE?

Absolutely not. Driving high is roughly 12 times safer than driving drunk, but it can still get you a DUI. Marijuana impairment while driving is punishable in all states, even those that allow recreational use.

HOW LONG DOES CANNABIS STAY IN THE BODY?

Marijuana use leaves potentially long-lasting chemical traces in the form of inactive THC metabolites. These metabolites bind to fat molecules in the body, meaning evidence of THC can linger in the bloodstream for weeks and even months. Heavier use can typically be detected longer, so chronic smokers should quit at least 30 days before any drug test.

WHAT MEDICAL CONDITIONS DOES MARIJUANA TREAT?

Cannabis is used to treat a wide range of medical problems. The best known are glaucoma and nausea, treatments that were discovered half a century ago. But marijuana is also useful in alleviating the symptoms of cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis, ALS, Tourette’s syndrome, anxiety, Parkinson’s disease, chronic pain, inflammation, depression, epilepsy, dementia, PTSD – and the list goes on.

WHERE IS MARIJUANA LEGAL FOR MEDICAL USE?

Most of the United States allows some form of medical marijuana. The majority of these states permit possession and use of “whole plant” cannabis, which can include intoxicating levels of THC. The rest have legalized only non-intoxicating strains with high levels of another chemical, CBD. Some states require patients to buy their medicine from retail stores, others allow at-home cultivation, and some states permit both.  A few states, meanwhile, ban smoking of the drug but not vaporizing, eating, or other methods of consumption. Check your state laws for more detailed information.

WHERE IS MARIJUANA LEGAL FOR RECREATIONAL USE?”

Fifteen states and three territories– Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, South Dakota, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, California, Maine, Michigan, Massachusetts, Nevada, Illionois, and Vermont – allow the recreational purchase, possession, and use of marijuana by adults over 21, as does the District of Columbia. Of these, all but Washington State permit home cannabis gardens. Recreational pot shops remain illegal in Washington, D.C., but are allowed elsewhere.

WHO BENEFITS FROM MARIJUANA LEGALIZATION?

All Americans stand to reap the rewards of legalization, but certain people and institutions are especially likely to benefit from reform: marijuana users, of course, but also police, prosecutors, politicians, labor unions, educators, prison guards, entrepreneurs, schoolchildren, scientists, voters, and just about every other group with an interest in the future of law, government, or the economy.

HOW DOES SMOKING CANNABIS COMPARE TO SMOKING TOBACCO?

Above all, smoking cannabis is dramatically safer than smoking nicotine products. Tobacco use is responsible for nearly half a million deaths in the United States each year, while even lifelong marijuana use has never caused a fatality. This may be counter-intuitive, as cannabis smoke can feel harder on the lungs, but regular tobacco smokers actually inhale far more smoke than even the heaviest marijuana users.