Where is Marijuana Legal?

It’s the first day of summer, time to pack up the car, drive to some exotic destination, kick your feet up, crack open a beer, maybe light a joint … Whoa, hold on, wait a minute…

I suppose that depends on where you are. For generations, American travelers knew what the law said about marijuana no matter where they went – it was illegal, period.

But, times have changed in some states, while in others – like South Carolina – pot is still illegal.  Nine states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational and medical use, and medical marijuana is legal in 29 states now.

Even in SC, legalization advocates – including some law enforcement officials and political leaders from both parties – say they expect state lawmakers to pass a medical marijuana bill next year.

Let’s look at which states have legalized marijuana for medical or recreational use, or both, and what is happening with marijuana laws in SC.

Which States Have Legalized Marijuana?

Of course, it’s not as simple as whether marijuana is legal or illegal – if it’s legal, for what purposes is it legal? It could be:

  • Legal when recommended by a doctor, and some states limit what conditions it can be recommended for;
  • Legal for recreational use;
  • Decriminalized, meaning you can’t go to jail for it but there is still a civil penalty;
  • Decriminalized Lite, meaning it’s still a criminal offense but you can’t go to jail for small amounts; or
  • Certain parts of the plant may be legal, but others illegal.

When it is legal, it is only legal up to certain amounts which can range from a half-ounce to four ounces for personal (or medical) use.

Which States Have Legalized Medical Marijuana?

20 states allow people to use cannabis if their doctors recommend it for treatment of a medical condition:

Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, Arizona, New Mexico, Arkansas, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia, Florida, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey, Delaware, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Connecticut, New York, and Hawaii.

And other states have legalized cannabis for recreational purposes, which, obviously, makes it available for medical use as well…

States That Have Legalized Recreational Marijuana

Nine states, plus Washington, D.C., have taken things a step further, legalizing the drug for recreational use as well as for medical treatment:

Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Colorado, Alaska, Maine, Massachusetts, and Vermont – the only state so far that legalized the drug through the legislature, rather than a ballot initiative.

Business Insider has a map detailing where recreational and medical marijuana are legal.

So, Is It Flat-Out Illegal in All Other States?

Not exactly.

In some states, the legality of marijuana can get a little complicated. For example, in Louisiana, medical cannabis is kind-of-sort-of legal. Laws there allow medical marijuana for certain conditions, but only in pill, oil, or topical ointment forms – not the plant itself. This raises issues with access and cost.

Virginia has a medical marijuana law on the books, but it doesn’t mean anything. The law there allows people to possess marijuana if a doctor prescribed it, but federal law doesn’t allow doctors to prescribe marijuana, only to recommend it, which isn’t covered by the state law.

In North Carolina, possession of a half-ounce or less is still a criminal offense but is punishable by a fine only. Many municipalities have “decriminalized” marijuana possession, making it a civil offense punishable by a fine only.

A few states, like Alabama, Mississippi, and South Carolina, allow some derivative form of medical cannabis like CBD oil with a doctor’s recommendation, but only for certain, severe epileptic conditions.

What Does SC Law Say About Marijuana?

In South Carolina, marijuana is illegal.

Anyone caught with any amount for any purpose will be arrested and taken to jail. State law defines marijuana as any part of the cannabis plant and any substance derived from the plant.

But … SC law also defines what is not marijuana. If it’s not marijuana, as defined in SC law, then it is not prohibited by SC’s marijuana laws. CBD oil (cannabidiol) products are not considered marijuana, even though they are derived from the seeds and mature stalks of cannabis plants.

The exception made for CBD oil is the result of Julian’s Law, the closest thing SC currently has to a medical marijuana law. Passed in 2014, the law allows people with severe forms of epilepsy “that [are] not adequately treated by traditional medical therapies” to use CBD oils if their physician determines that it would benefit them.

SC lawmakers have been mulling a more comprehensive medical marijuana bill for a couple of years, but they have yet to vote on it.

The S.C. Compassionate Care Act would allow people with certain medical conditions and a doctor’s recommendation to possess less than two ounces of cannabis. The conditions for which doctors could recommend medical marijuana include cancer, glaucoma, HIV, hepatitis C, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, autism, Parkinson’s disease, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It could also be recommended for any condition that causes debilitating pain, severe nausea, seizures, neurological disorders, or the kind of persistent muscle spasms that accompany disorders like multiple sclerosis.

Growing Support for Legalization in SC

While legislators have so far avoided voting on the bill, medical marijuana advocates say they are confident it will pass next year as more lawmakers have come to see the plant as a medicine rather than just a party drug.

“People understand that it is inhumane to withhold from people medicine that can really help them,” said Sen. Tom Davis, who introduced the Compassionate Care Act. That new understanding is partly the result of the work of advocates like Janel Ralph, who has testified before lawmakers about the relief her child has gotten from cannabis.

Ralph, whose daughter suffers from seizures caused by a condition called lissencephaly, was among the most vocal lobbyists who pushed for the passage of Julian’s Law. As executive director of patient advocacy group Compassionate South Carolina, Ralph continues to lobby for greater access to medical marijuana.

Like Ralph, Jeff Moore has given emotional testimony before lawmakers. Moore is the former executive director of the SC Sheriffs’ Association, a group that vehemently opposes any marijuana legalization. But Moore changed his mind after seeing the drug help his son, who suffered brain injuries during the war in Iraq and returned home with PTSD.

Ralph has pointed out that SC voters seem to be throwing their support behind medical marijuana – or at least candidates who advocate for some form of legalization. For example, state Rep. James Smith is a co-sponsor of a House bill that would allow medical marijuana, and he just won the Democratic primary for governor. And Republican John Warren, another medical marijuana advocate, got enough votes in the primaries to force a runoff with Gov. Henry McMaster.

What Do South Carolina Voters Want?

During last week’s Democratic primary, voters were asked in a non-binding vote, “Do you support allowing doctors to prescribe medical marijuana to patients?”

Most of them said yes in all 46 counties – 82 percent of them, to be exact.

Two years ago, 78 percent of South Carolinians said they support legalizing medical marijuana, according to a Winthrop poll.

What’s Happening in Nearby States?

  • In North Carolina, the state House is considering a bill that would eliminate jail time for anyone carrying four ounces of marijuana.
  • In Georgia, a state senator introduced a bill to legalize cannabis earlier this year.
  • In Tennessee, the state Senate killed a bill that would have legalized medical marijuana. Critics complained that it did not include a taxation or regulatory system.

Click here for a full list of states that are considering marijuana law changes this year.

Marijuana Defense Lawyer in Charleston, SC

Marijuana defense lawyer Grant B. Smaldone is located in Charleston, S.C. If you’ve been charged with any marijuana offense in South Carolina, including:

Call now at (843) 808-2100 or send us a message online to discuss your case.