Federal vs State Law


Since 1996, over 23 states including Washington DC have passed laws allowing cannabinoid therapeutics to be used for a variety of medical conditions with an additional 12 states passing cannabidiol (CBD) specific laws. Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington have legalized for recreational use.  

It is important to recognize that these state laws do not change the fact that using, cultivating or selling continues to be an offense under Federal law.  Nor do these state laws change the criteria or process for FDA approval of safe and effective medications.

These state laws vary greatly in their criteria and implementation, and many states are experiencing vigorous internal debates about the safety, efficacy, and legality of their laws. Many local governments are even creating zoning and enforcement ordinances that prevent can· na· bis dispensaries from operating in their communities. Regulation of marijuana for purported medical use may also exist at the county and city level, in addition to state laws.

Voters in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington state  also passed initiatives legalizing the sale and distribution of for adults 21 and older under state law.  District of Columbia voters approved Initiative 71, which permits adults 21 years of age or older to grow and possess (but not sell) limited amounts.  There are critical differences in laws from one state, county, or city to another. For more information, refer to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).

It is important to note that Congress has determined that it is a dangerous drug and that the illegal distribution and sale is a serious crime. The Department of Justice (DOJ) is committed to enforcing the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) consistent with these determinations. On August 29, 2013, DOJ issued guidance to Federal prosecutors concerning enforcement under the CSA.  The Department’s guidance is  available on the DOJ Web site, and provides further detail.