Marijuana, derived from the Cannabis sativa plant, is classified as a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act, indicating it has a high potential for dependency and no accepted medical use. Although isolated components of the raw marijuana plant have recognized medicinal uses, smoking marijuana has not passed the Food and Drug Administration’s rigorous research and testing process to become an approved medicine.
Marijuana contains psychoactive chemicals, and the main active chemical is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Distribution of marijuana is a federal offense, and it is the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States.
Legal Status of Marijuana Use
Although marijuana use violates federal law, many states have passed laws allowing marijuana in various amounts and contexts. Restrictions vary widely by state; some states only allow medical marijuana, while others have legalized recreational marijuana. Various state laws may do one of the following:
- Legalize medical marijuana, meaning an individual may defend against criminal charges if he or she can prove a medical need for marijuana under state law
- Legalize the possession and use of recreational or medical marijuana
- Decriminalize marijuana, meaning penalties for possession and use of small amounts of marijuana may be reduced
In 1996, California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana. Since then, 23 states and the District of Columbia have also legalized medical marijuana. However, only a few states have legalized recreational marijuana use. As of November 2014, Colorado, Washington, Alaska and Oregon have passed laws allowing recreational marijuana.