Five Cannabis Laws That Apply to Most US States

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Table of contents

  1. 1. In most states, you need a valid medical marijuana card to legally possess cannabis and/or cannabidiol (CBD).
  2. 2. There is a limitation to the maximum amount and type of cannabis that you can legally possess.
  3. 3. There is an age limit for cannabis possession, and you need a license to trade.
  4. 4. There are different policies governing cannabis in the workplace.
  5. 5. Decriminalized cannabis does not mean cannabis is legal to possess, or that you face no charges
  6. Conclusion

Cannabis is a plant harnessed for both medicine and for recreational purposes. However, as a Schedule I substance, possession of cannabis and use for any purpose is illegal under federal law. 

At the state level, the laws regarding the use of cannabis greatly vary and conflict with federal laws. For this reason, it is essential to understand some of the basic laws about cannabis that operate in the state where you are. This will help you comply with such regulations and avoid getting into trouble with the authorities.

In this piece, we cover five cannabis laws in the United States to help you ensure that you do not break the law.

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1. In most states, you need a valid medical marijuana card to legally possess cannabis and/or cannabidiol (CBD).

To legally possess and use cannabis in most states throughout the US, you’ll need a medical marijuana card. As well as patients, official caregivers may also possess a limited amount of cannabis. Your doctor provides a recommendation saying you would benefit from medical marijuana use to treat one or more particular qualifying conditions and register with a state system to obtain a medical marijuana card. This card protects you from prosecution by the state and allows you access to medical marijuana dispensaries. In some states, having a valid medical marijuana identification card also allows you to grow cannabis. In some states, too, only THC-free (or 0.3% or less) CBD products are legal.

Additionally, individual states specify the types of physicians who are allowed to provide medical marijuana recommendations. While different states have different qualifying conditions, many of these overlap across state lines. 

Cancer, epilepsy or any condition that causes chronic seizures, multiple sclerosis (MS), Parkinson’s disease, crohn’s disease, AIDS/HIV and chronic pain where opioids may otherwise be prescribed are common qualifying conditions in most states. And while a recommending doctor cannot necessarily give you any definitive advice on using cannabis as medicine due to legal issues and lack of research, they can guide you through other questions, such as "How does CBD work?" and "What is CBD?"

To get an MMJ card, you need to submit an application and pay a fee. In some states, those who are eligible for certain state assistance programs or those who are veterans can access reduced fees. The fee price limit also varies among different states.

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2. There is a limitation to the maximum amount and type of cannabis that you can legally possess.

Though cannabis is legalized in many states, there is usually a maximum amount that you can carry. This maximum amount differs between dried cannabis flower and concentrates that one can carry. 

In some states, only non-smokable forms of cannabis are legal. States also often distinguish different possession limitations between recreational and medical purposes, as well as the maximum amount of cannabis that you are allowed to buy at once. There may also be restrictions on how you transport cannabis, especially in a vehicle. Driving under the influence of cannabis is illegal in all states, regardless of medical status, and failure to adhere to these laws could lead to fines or imprisonment.

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3. There is an age limit for cannabis possession, and you need a license to trade.

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As with alcohol, there is the age limit within which one can be allowed to have cannabis. More often than not, one cannot buy cannabis if they are below 21 years of age for recreational purposes and 18 for medical purposes. Additionally, you risk serious charges if found providing cannabis to a minor, although under exceptional circumstances, those under 18 may receive a medical marijuana card.

For you to trade or sell cannabis, you must be licensed. Some states restrict growing cannabis plants, while others like California allow citizens to grow a limited number of plants on one’s own property. Anyone found selling marijuana without license risks facing charges similar to those who sell cannabis illegally, usually fines or imprisonment. 

Additionally, it is important to remember that possession of marijuana seeds in the US is illegal in many places. In some states, you may "gift" cannabis to a friend aged 21 or over without selling it.

4. There are different policies governing cannabis in the workplace.

Considering that cannabis can affect one’s performance at work, especially if they are working with vehicles or heavy machinery, most workplaces issue different rules regarding its use. Some employers have zero tolerance for cannabis, while others may tolerate use in the treatment of a chronic qualifying condition.

Detection of cannabis use through a drug test, however, presents a challenge. A positive drug test does not necessarily mean that the person is working under the influence of cannabis, which can lead to complications in states where medical and/or recreational use is allowed. There are also different tests, some of which are more reliable than others. A hair test, for example, while very sensitive, can yield a false-positive result from second-hand smoke, and various hair products may influence the outcome of the results.

In some cases, however, state law has strict workplace laws concerning the use of marijuana, especially regarding those working with vulnerable people, in medical fields, in law enforcement, and in the armed forces. Those who work in transport or with heavy machinery may also be subject to stringent drug tests, and these employers are often within their rights to fire employees for cannabis use. Some exemptions may be made for medical patients, but this depends upon the type of job and, in many states, is at the employer’s discretion.

Many states have gone through a process of decriminalizing cannabis. Ideally, decriminalization eliminates penalties for the possession or use of small amounts of cannabis. However, this does not completely legalize cannabis use or possession. It is possible for the police to arrest you if found in possession of cannabis. In addition to being arrested, you may receive citations similar to traffic or parking tickets that carry a minimal fee. These citations do not necessarily result in a criminal record (assuming you weren’t carrying a large amount, meaning varying totals state-by-state, but usually over ten grams of cannabis). 

In many police departments and cities, too, they have passed several non-enforcement policies that have the same effect as legislative decriminalization. However, selling cannabis and possession of large amounts is still considered criminal activity, and can incur fines or a prison sentence.

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The laws regarding cannabis vary widely from state-to-state. Understanding each of these laws is paramount to help you avoid breaking the law, even by accident. It is also worth remembering that cannabis and many cannabinoids, including cannabidiol (CBD), are illegal throughout the United States and considered a Schedule I substance unless the product is FDA-approved. Please check out the Leafwell cannabis state laws page for more information on cannabis legality throughout the United States.