is pot still illegal federally

Is Pot Still Illegal Federally: An Overview

Understanding Federal Marijuana Laws

Marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law, which means it is illegal to produce, distribute, or possess marijuana at the federal level. The Controlled Substances Act (CSA) classifies marijuana as having a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use. This federal law supersedes state laws that legalize marijuana for medicinal or recreational use.

The Conflict between Federal and State Marijuana Laws

The conflict between federal and state marijuana laws has been an ongoing issue for many years. Currently, thirty-six states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana, and fifteen states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana. However, these state laws do not protect individuals or businesses from federal prosecution.

The Cole Memorandum

In 2013, the Obama Administration issued the Cole Memorandum, which outlined a policy of non-interference with state marijuana laws as long as the state complied with certain federal priorities, such as preventing distribution to minors and preventing marijuana revenue from funding criminal enterprises. However, the Cole Memorandum was rescinded by the Trump Administration in 2018, leaving states with legal marijuana in a state of uncertainty regarding federal enforcement.

The Rohrabacher–Farr Amendment

In 2014, Congress passed the Rohrabacher–Farr amendment, which prohibited the Department of Justice from using federal funds to interfere with state medical marijuana programs. However, this amendment only applies to medical marijuana and must be renewed annually. It does not protect individuals or businesses in states that have legalized recreational marijuana.

The Future of Federal Marijuana Laws

The future of federal marijuana laws is uncertain. In November 2020, five more states legalized marijuana for either medicinal or recreational use, bringing the total number of states with legalized marijuana to 36. Additionally, the MORE Act, which would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level, passed the House of Representatives in December 2020 but has not yet been passed by the Senate.

The MORE Act

The MORE Act (Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act) would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, expunge federal marijuana convictions, and create a federal tax on marijuana products. The bill also includes provisions to reinvest revenue from the tax into communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs.

The Biden Administration’s Stance on Marijuana

President Biden has stated that he supports decriminalizing marijuana at the federal level and expunging prior convictions, but he has stopped short of supporting full legalization. However, some advocates are hopeful that his administration will take a more progressive stance on marijuana policy than previous administrations.


In conclusion, marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, despite the legalization of medical and recreational marijuana in many states. The conflict between federal and state marijuana laws has created uncertainty for individuals and businesses in states with legal marijuana. The future of federal marijuana laws is uncertain, but the passage of the MORE Act and the Biden administration’s support for decriminalization and expungement of prior convictions may signal a shift in federal marijuana policy.

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