Where is Marijuana Legal?

Jillian Jastrzembski

Your travel guide

As most of us tend to get shuffled around the country during traveling for vacations or holidays, it can be a good time to brush up on your legal knowledge – of cannabis, that is. Just like your relatives’ house might have different rules about cannabis compared to your own, your relatives’ home state probably does too.

So, in this article, we’re breaking down the legality of cannabis. Which are the states where recreational marijuana is legal? What are the regulatory nuances that you should be aware of? What is the difference between cannabis, marijuana, and hemp? And what does the future of federal cannabis law look like? We’ve simplified everything to create your go-to guide for cannabis law, no matter where you are during the holidays or United States vacations.

What is the Difference Between Cannabis, Marijuana, and Hemp?

Although we tend to use these terms interchangeably, there’s actually some nuance that becomes important for legal reasons. Cannabis is a plant (Cannabis sativa) that is rich in bioactive compounds, the most significant of which belong to a class called cannabinoids. Of special note is the compound delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinoid, or THC. THC is the compound in cannabis that is responsible for its psychotropic effects. In fact, it is the only psychoactive compound that is naturally present at high enough concentrations to induce a high.

Unsurprisingly, the concentration of THC is important for legal reasons. If the concentration of THC exceeds 0.3% by dry weight, the plant is classified as cannabis. Cannabis and marijuana can be used interchangeably. Cannabis is classified as a Schedule 1 drug by federal law – more on that later.

If the concentration of THC is less than 0.3% by dry weight, then the plant is classified as hemp. Although hemp is technically still cannabis sativa, it is treated differently by law under the 2018 Agricultural Improvement Act, also known as the 2018 Farm Bill.

This is purely a legal technicality. The THC that is derived or extracted from hemp is chemically exactly the same as the THC found in cannabis, and it has the same exact effect on your body. As we’ll discuss in the next section, there are also other psychoactive compounds that are technically legal when derived from hemp. These include compounds like delta-8-THC and HHC, both of which can be derivatized from the starting material CBD.

What is the 2018 Farm Bill?

Since the 2018 Agricultural Improvement Act, commonly called the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp is no longer considered a controlled substance under federal law. It’s worth noting that the FDA still retains its authority to regulate all cannabis products – even if they are technically classified as hemp.

This includes all parts, extracts, and derivatives of the plant. For example, the compound THCb, tetrahydrocannabutol, is an example of a psychotropic compound that is naturally present in low concentrations in the cannabis plant. Yes, it can make you high, but as long as it is isolated from hemp, it is perfectly legal.

Often the wording of the 2018 Agricultural Improvement Act can put cannabis products in gray legal territory. This is true for psychoactive derivatives like delta-8-THC and HHC. These compounds are derived from CBD instead of isolated from hemp. Because of this, it is unclear if they should be classified as hemp derivatives (which would be legal) or as synthetic cannabinoids (which would be controlled substances). They fall somewhere in between, and are often referred to as semi-synthetic cannabinoids.

Oddly enough, the implications of the 2018 law also apply to CBD itself, even though CBD is not even psychoactive. If CBD is derived from cannabis, it is illegal. But if it is derived from hemp, it is perfectly legal. Again, it’s the exact same molecule. The legal status is determined purely on a technicality.


Where is Marijuana Legal?

Federal Law

With each passing year, there are more and more states where marijuana is legal for either medicinal or recreational use. And yet, cannabis is still classified as a Schedule 1 substance under the 1970 Controlled Substance Act. Schedule 1 means that, in the eyes of federal law makers, cannabis has no medical benefit and a high potential for abuse. Currently, the only exception to this is one CBD-containing drug that is legal for treatment of seizures.

The 2022 Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act (the MORE Act) is a proposed law that would decriminalize cannabis and remove it as a Schedule 1 controlled substance.

State Law

If cannabis is still a Schedule 1 substance, then how is cannabis legal in so many parts of the country? It turns out that federal law is often at odds with state laws. Federal law is likely to defer to state legislation.

Many states have legalized cannabis for medicinal and, in many cases, recreational use. Others have decriminalized marijuana, which is not quite the same as legalizing it. Each state has a different legislative process. Within state regulations, there are often nuances related to the quantity of cannabis in possession, the sale of cannabis, and the production or cultivation of cannabis.

States Where Marijuana is Legal for Recreational Use

Currently there are 24 states where cannabis is legal for recreational use. These include (in order of legalization):


·       Washington

·       Colorado


·       Oregon

·       Alaska


·       Nevada

·       Massachusetts

·       Maine

·       California


·       Michigan


·       Illinois


·       Vermont

·       New Jersey

·       Montana

·       Arizona


·       Virginia

·       New York

·       New Mexico

·       Connecticut


·       Rhode Island

·       Missouri

·       Maryland


·       Ohio

·       Minnesota

·       Delaware

Can You Fly With Cannabis?

The short answer is no. Even if you’re traveling between states where cannabis is fully legal, you are still subject to federal law if you’re getting on a plane. That includes airports that are locally operated or owned. Even products such as CBD oil could be considered illegal. If you try to fly with cannabis from a state where it is legal, it is likely that it will be confiscated by airport officials.

The longer answer is, it’s complicated. There are some exceptions related to medical marijuana, and to hemp-derived products.

Remember that according to the 2018 Agricultural Improvement Act, cannabis products containing less than 0.3% THC by dry weight are classified as hemp, and are not a controlled substance. According to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), medical marijuana is technically allowed in carry-on and checked baggage.

By the way, the TSA is also not actively searching for cannabis. They are mainly concerned with detecting potential threats to the flight and other passengers. That said, if they do come across a federally illegal substance, they will refer the case to a law enforcement officer.

It’s not straightforward. All in all, unless you have medical reasons, you are better off leaving your cannabis at home. Besides, there’s a 50% chance you are traveling to a state where you can legally purchase or ship cannabis to get you through your time away from home.

The Take-Away

We know the legality of cannabis is possibly the least fun part of cannabis. But especially if you’re traveling for the holidays, it’s important that you be aware of how different state laws may differ from your home state.

When in doubt, our best advice is to stick to hemp-derived products. These products are legal under federal law thanks to the 2018 Agricultural Improvement Act. You still have plenty to choose from. At The Green Dragon, we offer a wide variety of fully hemp-derived products.

As always, if you have any questions feel free to contact us for a free consultation.

Where is Marijuana Legal?
A guide to cannabis law: legal states, regulations, differences between cannabis products, & future of federal laws, simplified for easy understanding.
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Where is Marijuana Legal?
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