If you think cannabis might be a good option for you, one of the first steps you should take is to find out about the cannabis laws in your area. Despite its clear medical benefits and increasing support in the United States, cannabis remains a federally illegal substance. And yet, more than half of U.S. states have laws that protect medical patients from prosecution if they have a doctor’s recommendation to use medical marijuana. A few states also have recreational cannabis laws allowing any adult to obtain small amounts of marijuana without risking legal repercussions.
In this article, the second of a multi-part series geared for folks who are new to cannabis, we’ll provide helpful tips and resources on figuring out how to best navigate the marijuana laws that apply to you based on where you live.
The laws around marijuana possession and use vary drastically from state to state and can even vary by county or town. Anyone thinking about trying cannabis to improve their health and wellness should start their journey by understanding exactly what types of cannabis activity are allowed and protected in their area—or any place they might be traveling to.
Luckily, a handful of websites do a good job of compiling cannabis laws state by state. Cannabis users can explore maps to learn about the various laws related to cannabis use in a specific area on the:
We recommend checking out the information on all three sites as the focus and level of detail differ a bit across each of them; this will help give you the most nuanced picture of the legal situation in your area.
Unfortunately, certain states still haven’t legalized cannabis to the extent that places like Colorado, California and New York have. For those living in states where carrying and using cannabis is a misdemeanor or worse, patients are faced with tough choices:
- Some decide to opt out of using cannabis for the time being, but get involved in pushing for pro-cannabis policies in their state.
- Others stay where they are and use their medicine illegally, risking prosecution and imprisonment.
- Meanwhile, some folks become “medical refugees,” moving to another state where they can legally use their medicine.
I’m one of those medical refugees, having moved from New Jersey, where I grew up, to California, where the laws around medical marijuana allow for its use—in many different forms—for a large variety of conditions. As someone with daily chronic pain, my quality of life and ability to function have improved drastically since I began using medical cannabis. While its use is now allowed in New Jersey, the laws don’t apply to the conditions I treat with cannabis, so returning would mean giving up my much-needed medicine.
While it may seem extreme to move, depending on the severity of the condition and the benefit cannabis brings to the individual patient, relocating can be very much worth your trouble. For example, if you or your loved one suffers from life-threatening seizures that only seem to be reduced by using CBD from cannabis, you might find uprooting your life a way better prospect than living with pain or potentially losing it.
If you don’t have access to cannabis where you are and aren’t yet sure whether it will help you with your condition, you might consider traveling to a state where it’s legal for doctors to recommend cannabis for out-of-state patients. California, for example, allows doctors to recommend cannabis to anyone who qualifies, regardless of where they live. Patients can get a California recommendation and access cannabis in California, even if their home state has rules against cannabis use.
That said, traveling across state lines with cannabis is a federal crime, so it’s not advised to head back to your state with cannabis obtained in other states. Still, taking a trip out of state to try out cannabis legally can give you more information about whether cannabis is right for you. Armed with this information, you can make a thoughtful decision about whether to stay where you are or make the move to another state.
Cannabis law isn’t always simple, so if you find yourself feeling confused, you can and should talk to someone who can help explain the legal parameters in your area. Lawyers familiar with the legal landscape around cannabis can answer your questions and let you know how the law applies to your individual situation. You can also get in touch with cannabis activism groups in your area to connect with knowledgeable patients and industry activists willing to share their wealth of knowledge with newcomers. Organizations such as Norml, the Drug Policy Alliance, Students for Sensible Drug Policy and Americans for Safe Access often have local chapters where you can find allies and support on your cannabis journey.
While the task may seem intimidating at first blush, it’s incredibly empowering to learn your rights along with the restrictions around cannabis that apply to you. Once you get a good handle on these laws—and make sure you’re complying with them—you can start using your medicine with confidence and ease.
Stay tuned for the next installment of our Cannabis for Newbies guide on navigating the approval process for using cannabis legally. Need a medical marijuana recommendation? Consult with one of HelloMD’s knowledgeable doctors; it's easy, private and 100% online.
Photo credit: Dan Goofy