Published On: Wed, May 8th, 2019

How Are Drug Laws Changing Across the US in 2019?

A law passed by the federal government is only as functional as a state’s agreement to enforce it.

That’s why laws passed at the federal level can often have little to no effect on state jurisdictions. This has been especially true for the legalization of marijuana at the state level.

Despite initial confusion, more and more states are warming up to the idea of decriminalizing or regulating the sale of cannabis and CBD products.

What changes to drug laws have already occurred in 2019 and what other changes can we expect to see? Keep reading and I’ll guide you through the state of marijuana and cannabidiol legalization in the United States.

photo Bart Everson Armstrong Legalize Marijuana

Why Is Cannabis Driving Drug Law Change?

Cannabis and its components are losing the stigma they’ve had in the past.

Hemp products have been used for centuries as a medicine, a source for fabric, and an excellent material for making rope. The plant gained attention in America when Mexican immigrants brought it up from Mexico in the 1910s. Yet the use of marijuana as a drug gained traction during its infamous rise to fame during the 1960s hippie movement.  

Now, you can find hemp in skincare and beauty products. There are bars and restaurants that specialize in THC cocktails and cooking. And retailers across the country are stocking CBD oils, edibles, and gummies.

All this has resulted from new research suggesting cannabis and cannabidiol specifically have medicinal uses. This led to a number of states across the US to legalize the use of marijuana for certain medical disorders.

Originally, these included:





In 2012, a handful of states in the US legalized recreational marijuana in addition to medical marijuana. People in the states of Colorado and Washington were officially allowed to legally consume marijuana products.

Yet the federal law still made marijuana an illegal Schedule 1 drug, which is the category reserved for compounds with highly addictive properties and no known medical use. Since the 2018 Farm Bill, though, states and the federal government are starting to get on the same page.

State vs Federal Drug Laws

Though the purchase and sale of marijuana without a medical card was made legal in some states in 2012, there were still reports of federally-enforced DEA raids afterward.

Meanwhile, in states where medical marijuana was illegal, doctors feared handing out recommendations to medical cannabis users for fear of federal action.

But the Federal Farm Bill of 2018 changed all that, making it legal for growers across the nation to grow and sell hemp.

This license legalized the growth of hemp plants with hemp beings defined as a cannabis plant with flowers containing less than 0.3% THC. It also made it easier for growers to transport products across state lines.

While some experts say that the bill also limits the way hemp is sold, transported, or possessed, there is nationwide confusion about the legality of hemp products by state.  

State Drug Crime Laws in 2019

While the growth and sale of hemp may be legal at the federal level, not all states agree.

The majority of states have legalized hemp and/or marijuana in some form. But this makes it tricky for cannabis distributors and consumers to know what the criminal implications are in their state.

Here is a guide to what’s legal and what’s not in your state.

Marijuana Cultivation

In Texas, there are only 3 companies with state-issued licenses to grow cannabis. Other cultivators getting their licenses, though, depends on the state’s refinement of the definitions of hemp vs cannabis.

Cultivators in Pennsylvania are now allowed to apply for a license to grow cannabis. But the legal cultivation of marijuana is already completely legal in states that have legalized cannabis and CBD for recreational purposes.

Drug Purchase, Possession, and Consumption

The purchase, possession, and consumption laws for THC and CBD products are different in each state.

For instance, Texas legislatures recently removed hemp from the list of Schedule 1 drugs. Yet this doesn’t actually make it legal.

CBD users in Texas are protected for topical products but edibles, tinctures, and CBD oils are not legal. This is even the case for THC-free CBD products. Medical cannabis, however, is legal for a handful of patients statewide, most of which have intractable epilepsy.   

In Pennsylvania, medical marijuana has been legal since 2016 and this includes hemp products. While patients need a doctor’s recommendation to get medical marijuana, they can buy THC-free hemp products like dietary supplements over the counter. This does not apply to CBD oil, which does require a physician’s recommendation.

Only 18 doctors across Pennsylvania are legally approved to recommend hemp and medical marijuana to patients. Learn more about Pennsylvania drug charges to find out your county’s specific purchase, possession, and consumption drug laws.

New Mexico is in the process of passing SB406, which protects medical marijuana patients from discrimination during employment, housing, education, and healthcare. This includes making it illegal to deny medical cannabis users an organ transplant.

Drug Sale

The sale of cannabis products can be broken down into three categories: 1. sale for recreational use, 2. sale for medical use, and 3. the sale of THC-free hemp products for recreational and/or medical use. Different states have specific laws regarding the sale of each one.

Here are the states that have legalized cannabis and CBD for recreational purposes:










Washington D.C.


These states make it legal to sell cannabis to patients with a medical marijuana license:


North Dakota



New Mexico









West Virginia



New Jersey

New York


Rhode Island

New Hampshire


That leaves only a few states that allow some to no sale of THC-free hemp products:



South Dakota









South Carolina


But even states where the sale and consumption of cannabis are legal may have employment laws that restrict the use of medical marijuana at work.

Employment Drug Laws

Zero-tolerance policies in the workplace are those that consider use or possession of an illegal drug a fireable offense. Yet employers in different states and federal employers all enforce zero-tolerance for medical marijuana use differently.

Since Noffsinger vs SSC Niantic Operating Co., LLC, Connecticut employers can’t enforce zero-tolerance policies unless that would require them to lose a federal benefit.

Oklahoma state laws don’t allow intoxication or possession of medical marijuana while on the job. But employers can’t use a medical marijuana prescription as a reason for not hiring and they cannot fire an employee for a positive drug test.

Employers in California can legally dismiss employees for a positive drug test and this counts for both marijuana and cannabidiol. Delaware, Nevada, New York, and West Virginia each have varying requirements for accommodating medical marijuana patients.

On the more conservative side, there are states like Ohio and Illinois.

Ohio legally allows employers to refuse to hire, discharge, or discipline a person for possession or use of marijuana, whether medical or not. Companies may also enforce zero-tolerance drug policies in the workplace, which allows them to fire employees on the basis of a failed drug test.

In Illinois, employers can’t discriminate against employees or potential employees based on medical marijuana use. But they can impose limitations on medical marijuana use, enforce zero-tolerance policies, and drug-free workplace policies. This, with the disclaimer, that they can’t do so in a discriminatory way.

Possible Effects of Marijuana Decriminalization

Decriminalization of weed would result in fewer arrests and felonies. Instead, marijuana possession and sale would be punished as a misdemeanor.

There are many proponents for the decriminalization of cannabis and CBD. And most of them base their argument on the statistics that show the War on Drugs has failed.

Meant to suppress the production, supply, and use of illegal drugs like cannabis, the War on Drugs has actually managed to do the opposite. Increased drug-related murders, more deaths by overdose, the prevalence of needle-transmitted HIV/AIDS, and costing the US nearly a billion dollars annually are just a few of the negative effects of the War on Drugs.

Some proponents of drug decriminalization think these factors could be reversed through the decriminalization of cannabis. In fact, Portugal did just that and found that neither crime nor addiction increased.

Decriminalization of all drugs in Portugal led to:

   More people seeking help for drug addiction disorders

   A drop in drug-related HIV outbreaks

   48% fewer drug-related incarcerations

The biggest effect of decriminalization is in regard to the prison population.

In the US alone, people imprisoned on drug-related crimes increased from 40,900 inmates in the early 1980s to nearly half a million prisoners in 2015. Seeing as the majority of arrests occur disproportionately in latinex and black communities, the War on Drugs is also a major contributor to racial inequality in America.

If marijuana were legalized, states might follow in the state of California’s lead and implement a program to help black market dealers start their own cannabis business. States would save hundreds of thousands of dollars and bring in just as much for regulating the sale of cannabis products.

How to Get Involved

Aside from decriminalization, states have the option to regulate the supply and purchase of marijuana products. However, this move can only come after more grants, advocacy, communication, and scientific inquiry into the medical benefits of cannabis.

If you want to stay up to date with drug laws in your state, check out our Hometown Newes for all the latest local updates.

Author: Laura Brown


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