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Drugs & Health Blog

How Legal Is Marijuana?

This blog post is archived and is no longer being updated. For the latest content, please visit the main Drugs & Health Blog page.

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The NIDA Blog Team

Update (2019):

  • Illinois and the U.S. territories of Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands have legalized marijuana for use by adults, age 21 and over. (Legalization in Illinois will go into effect on January 1, 2020.)
  • Marijuana use was decriminalized in Hawaii, New Mexico, New York, and North Dakota. “Decriminalization” typically means it’s not a crime for adults to possess small amounts of marijuana, but it may still be confiscated and, in some states, people may face civil fines (fees) for possessing it. 


Update (2018): On November 7, 2018, voters in four states went to the polls to decide on changes to their marijuana laws:

  • Voters in Michigan legalized the sale and use of marijuana.
  • Voters in Utah and Missouri legalized medical marijuana.
  • North Dakota did not legalize recreational marijuana.

In total, 33 states and the District of Columbia have now passed laws legalizing marijuana in some form.

(Information is current as of November 7, 2018.)

Update (2016): On Nov. 8, 2016, voters in eight states made changes to their marijuana laws, according to uncertified results. California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada legalized marijuana for adult recreational use. Arkansas, Florida, Montana, and North Dakota legalized marijuana for medical use. The details of the laws and when they go into effect vary by state.

Original post, current as of Oct. 11, 2016:

There’s been a lot of talk in the U.S. lately about legalizing marijuana. Maybe you’ve heard stories in the news about some states that have legalized weed (or are debating whether to do that) and wondered, what does that mean for you?

Recreational marijuana

First, let’s get the obvious out of the way: If you’re a teen, it’s never legal to use marijuana recreationally (that is, just to get high).

Marijuana is also still illegal under U.S. federal law, even in states that have passed laws to make it legal under state law.

Confused yet? Okay, so what about those state laws?

The District of Columbia and four states (Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington) allow adults to use marijuana recreationally. While the laws in these places vary, all of them prohibit people under the age of 21 from using marijuana recreationally.

Medical marijuana

Some research suggests that marijuana may have the potential to help treat some health conditions including pain, nausea, epilepsy, and others. But there hasn’t been enough research on the subject, and patients across the country are using marijuana strains and extracts that haven’t been fully tested or shown to be effective for their medical condition.

So far, 25 states and D.C. have passed laws to let people use marijuana with recommendations from their doctors (and sometimes by fulfilling other requirements, like having a medical marijuana license). The federal government has decided not to challenge those laws to any great extent. But people who buy marijuana in a state where it’s legal (for medicinal or recreational use) cannot take it across state lines into a state where it is not legal. So it remains a confusing issue.

Marijuana hasn’t been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and that approval is necessary to grow and sell medicine in this country. But researchers are studying possible medical uses for marijuana and some of the chemicals it contains. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which enforces marijuana laws in the U.S., recently said it would increase the number of places allowed to grow the plant for research purposes in hopes of making it easier for more scientists to study marijuana.

So just to repeat, nothing in the law has changed for teens; using weed to get high is still illegal, wherever you live in the U.S. Depending on what scientists learn about marijuana’s value as medicine, it may (or may not) become legal for more people with certain health problems.

Comments posted to the Drugs & Health Blog are from the general public and may contain inaccurate information. They do not represent the views of NIDA or any other federal government entity.


see a doctor
It is very nice to say hi to people who you know.
To get healthy and not get sick.
My doctor told me last month to look into marijuana. She read up on it and wants me to do the same. My doctor doesn’t know much about it either. I’m on disability and I read some prices are so much, I don’t think I can afford it. I’m in pain.
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you are right these facts are lit!!! :D
because I read carefully on the article.
i don't leik crusty stuff like weed only dank memes I inject lol
u wot m8
I love this
why had god abandoned us
who says God was ever there to start with???
is coicain the equifilent to liquid weed?

Nope, cocaine and marijuana are totally different drugs. For example, it's very unlikely that a person would overdose and die on marijuana (most marijuana-related deaths are due to injuries while high), but thousands of people overdose on cocaine every year (about 5,400 in 2014). You can read more about these drugs and others on our Drug Facts page:

Did you get those sketchers from goodwill
yes i did how did you know man mawarana has cuzed me to mak de bes choyses since i ingecded it at a parti it waz sooooo littttt
Will crack ever become legal!?
they should go and see a doctor
yes you should
Um what is the difernce between smokeing tobbaco and chewing tobbaco well except that you smoke one

That’s the main difference. Some people might think that smokeless (chewing) tobacco is safer because it’s not smoked, but that’s not true. Both types of tobacco contain nicotine, which is easily absorbed by the body and is the ingredient that can cause addiction. Other chemicals in tobacco can cause cancer. For more information, check out

*Cocaine, And no. Weed is not even close to being similar to Cocaine
that's not cool
yeah boi
8 voters made changes.
is tabaco more harmful or marjuana
I recently tested high for pot in my system but eat a lot of poppy seeds. Could that haxe given me a false positive for THC?

Some people have tested positive for marijuana after eating poppy seeds. If you are concerned, seek the advice of a medical professional or retake the test, if possible.

This blog addresses the legal status of marijuana. It has a few biased sentences that intrigue considering NIDA's stance on the issue of marijuana. 1. the term "still illegal" under federal law which could be interpreted that federal legalization may be on track. 2. "Never legal to use marijuana recreationally" implies it's ok to use medically? 3. It may (or may not) become legal once again takes the prspective that it is more likely to become legal for medical purposes. This legaleeze is of little benefit in helping teens, under pressure to use marijuana, to resist use. It also should provide links to a page outlining why marijuana is not safe for the teen brain (and remains unsafe for use by adults in a number of circumstances)
i need a doctor

If you need immediate medical attention, please call 911. If you need substance abuse treatment, you can find a doctor near you here:

ok...Would u leik some milk with that
You need some milk
lol medical is part of the name, but it's still a schedule one drug. Hey maybe that's, because the head of the DEA... oh wait she can't answer is crack is worse than crack-cocaine... you guys are so corrupt.
my dad beats me and locks me in my room

Hi Zack, so sorry to hear this! Is there another adult you can tell about this, maybe a teacher or school counselor? You can also call or chat with someone at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at or 1-800-273-8255.

omg i feel bad for u.always fight back
how sad. no one should be treated like that. i hope he will seek help
i havent felt anything in 20 years. please help me i sad

Hi David, if you want to talk to someone, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at or 1-800-273-TALK (8255). They can connect you with help in your area.


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