Cannabis, commonly known as marijuana, is a plant known for its psychoactive and physiological effects. The principal psychoactive chemical of cannabis is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
Some believe that marijuana can help with the symptoms of various illnesses and in the treatment of the side effects of chemotherapy treatments for cancer patients. However, the medicinal value of cannabis continues to be a much disputed topic. To date, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved marijuana for any medical reason, and maintains that marijuana is associated with numerous harmful health effects. The FDA has, however, approved two drugs containing a synthetic version of THC for treatment of certain medical conditions.
Since 1996 in the United States, 28 states and the District of Columbia have passed some version of laws allowing for the legal use of marijuana. While the laws vary, all 28 jurisdictions allow for some use of marijuana for medical purposes. There are important differences between states regarding what ailments marijuana is approved to treat. Medical marijuana can be used to treat nearly any condition in California, whereas in other stricter states, only very specific conditions are approved. A number of states allow cultivation of marijuana plants for individual consumption and eight states now allow the use of marijuana for recreational use. Legalizing recreational marijuana was on ballots in five states for the November 2016 election, winning in all except Arizona.
Federal laws treatment of marijuana differs from state law. Under federal law, marijuana remains a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act. Distribution of marijuana remains a federal offense, and as a Schedule I substance, marijuana is barred at the federal level from being prescribed. In recent years the Department of Justice has published a series of notices, explaining that they are unlikely to use federal resources to prosecute activities that are legal under the state law in which the activity is taking place; but the notices reinforce the fact that marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, and clearly retain their right to prosecute illegal activity. The memos outline 8 areas where the DOJ will focus their efforts: 1) sale and distribution to minors; 2) revenue being used for (other) illegal activity; 3) interstate commerce; 4) trafficking of other illegal substances; 5) preventing violence and illegal firearm use; 6) driving under the influence or other public safety issues; 7) cultivation on public lands; and 8) marijuana use on federal property.