Briefing on Legal Considerations Related to State Cannabis Regulation

On Wednesday, November 1, the National Governors Association hosted its monthly briefing for Governors’ legal counsel, which discussed state cannabis regulation.

The landscape of cannabis legalization and regulation remains a prominent state policy question, as the discussions and issues on this topic continue to evolve. Under the federal Controlled Substance Act (CSA), cannabis/marijuana is classified as a Schedule 1 controlled substance. Over the years, however, most states and territories have departed from a comprehensive prohibition of marijuana and have passed laws and policies allowing for some cultivation, sale, distribution, use, or possession of marijuana. In addition, there are a number of recent administrative and legislative proposals to declassify or update policies pertaining to cannabis at the federal level under consideration.

Currently, the state/territory marijuana legalization landscape is as follows:

  • Recreational and medical marijuana is legal in 25 states/territories.
    • Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Guam, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Northern Mariana Islands, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington
  • Medical marijuana is legal in 16 states/territories.
    • Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Dakota, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, South Dakota, Utah, U.S. Virgin Islands, and West Virginia
  • Medical CBD oil with THC is legal in 7 states.
    • Georgia, Iowa, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin

At least 31 states have also passed laws either fully or partially decriminalizing certain marijuana possession offenses. 

Cannabis legalization continues to be on ballots and legislative agendas in states and territories, and changes to the regulation of cannabis-based products under federal law continues to impact state laws regarding industrial hemp. Recently, there have been several key developments on the federal level related to marijuana regulation policy. These include President Biden’s executive action to grant clemency to individuals with certain low-level federal marijuana offenses, the President’s direction to the Attorney general to review the classification of marijuana under the CSA, and the signing of the Medical Marijuana and Cannabidiol Research Expansion Act (H.R. 8454). In addition to a number of pending congressional proposals, the Department of Health and Human Services also recently recommended moving cannabis from a Schedule I to a Schedule III controlled substance.

With this rapidly changing landscape, Governors and state officials are grappling with developing legal and policy approaches to address regulation, public health, surveillance, public safety and enforcement, taxation, licensing, and other emerging issues related to cannabis. As these issues cross multiple disciplines and areas of focus, states vary in their governance structure and often split authority and jurisdiction across multiple state agencies. Coordinating bodies or designated state leads may facilitate data sharing across agencies, engage public and private stakeholders, develop partnerships with universities and research institutions to inform policies, and coordinate public education and prevention efforts to promote public health and awareness. Governors have also used a number of levers and strategies across criminal justice (e.g., mass pardons, expungement efforts), social services, economic development, and workforce systems to address disparate impacts and improve social equity programs.

NGA holds monthly briefings for Governors’ legal counsel. Please reach out to Lauren Dedon ( for additional information.