Federal and State: The Battle of Medical Marijuana

By: Brandon Lancaster

As asserted in the Background Memo, medical marijuana’s main obstacle in the medical field within the United States lies with the federal government. While some state governments have legalized marijuana, the federal government remains obstinate about its legality. This memo will describe the current facts surrounding medical marijuana in the United States as to understand its position.

Created by the federal government and enforced by the Defense Enforcement Administration (DEA), there is an act called the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). According to the DEA’s website (2020), the CSA categorizes any substance which was federally regulated (para. 1). With that being said, the CSA (2020) categorizes marijuana as a Schedule I substance (pg. 11). A Schedule I substance is something which poses no medical benefits and has high risk for abuse, according to the DEA book Drugs of Abuse (2017, pg. 9). As a Schedule I drug, marijuana is considered a drug with no medicinal benefits and highly abusive. Along with this classification in the United States’ medical field, marijuana also remains illegal federally.

According to the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) (2020), 32 states and Washington D.C. (33 total) permit medical marijuana to be dispensed (pg. 1, according to the map). With sixty four percent of the United States legalizing medical marijuana, each decide on the laws and regulations placed upon the use, storage, and obtainability. There is no federal guideline to follow for the states, so they must make their own. An interesting fact to see from the map provided by DISA (2020) is there are only 11 states not decriminalizing and not permitting medical marijuana use (pg. 1, according to the map). It is interesting to observe only 22 percent of states follow the federal position of marijuana legality while the rest have some form of marijuana use. Doing the math, the two numbers above only add up to 43 states. The remaining states only allow for medicinal CBD for their medical marijuana (pg. 1, according to the map). The strong acceptance of marijuana by more than half of the state governments is strange. Constitutionally, the federal government is the highest government in the land and all governments answer towards it. There is also an amendment reserving the states to create laws which the government does not account for. Yet, the state laws are in direct contradiction to the federal law-making marijuana illegal.

Another factor which complicates the facts is how medical marijuana was treated during the recent pandemic COVID-19. From personal experience, medical marijuana dispensaries within Pennsylvania were considered essential businesses at the beginning of the pandemic. According to the governor’s website detailing protocols for Pennsylvanians during COVID-19 (2020), the red phase only restricts businesses to life sustaining only (para. 13). The classification during the pandemic completely contradicts the federal government’s view on marijuana. Federally, marijuana has no medical benefits and its risks being abused, but the states view it as life sustaining.

Marijuana’s position in the United States is very complicated. The federal government, while trying to change its view and the attitudes associated with marijuana, still deem it illegal

with the CSA. Many of the state governments, on the other hand, believe marijuana has exceptional medical benefits. The effects are strong enough to be considered essential during a pandemic, closing almost every business.


Controlled Substances Act List. (2020, August 20). Controlled Substances. https://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/schedules/orangebook/c_cs_alpha.pdf

Defense Information Systems Agency. (2020). Map of Marijuana Legality by State. https://disa.com/map-of-marijuana-legality-by-state

US Department of Justice and Drug Enforcement Administration. (2017). Drugs of Abuse. https://www.dea.gov/sites/default/files/drug_of_abuse.pdf

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