For Freshmen. By Freshmen.
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Dec 04 2016
by Jacqueline Waple

A College Student's Guide to Marijuana Laws

By Jacqueline Waple - Dec 04 2016

The recent election has shown us that a majority of people in the US agree on one topic: marijuana legalization. A recent Gallup poll shows that 60% of Americans support the legalization of marijuana. On November 8, four states voted to legalize recreational use while four more voted to legalize medical use. 

It is important to be aware of our country's mosaic of evolving marijuana laws, as well as where each is is legal. Keep in mind, each state has its own specific regulations regarding recreational and medicinal marijuana use. 

So what's the difference between recreational and medical marijuana use?

Medical Use

Marijuana has been utilized for medical purposes for thousands of years. It was first used for this purpose in China to treat pain and other maladies. This is a treatment that has proven the test of time, and continues to improve the lives of those who were prescribed it. There is a lot of science behind the benefits of medical marijuana, showing that it in fact does help with pain management as well as nausea among many other ailments.

Today, a doctor must supply a prescription or recommendation for a patient to receive medical marijuana. Common qualifying conditions in many states are cancer, HIV/AIDS, nausea, seizures and Crohn's disease. The patient would then apply within his/her state to receive a medical marijuana card. If approved, some states require fees to be paid. Once the card is obtained, it can be taken to a medical marijuana dispensary and there the patient can make a purchase.

Marijuana provides many chronically ill people with hope and relief. It can really change someone's life by allowing him/her to better function in daily life.

Recreational Use

Recreational marijuana also has a long history. In the 7th century B.C., Siberians were found to have smoked weed for pleasure as well as for religious ceremonies.

Marijuana has been reported to be the most widely used illicit drug on the planet. Recreational use is when a substance is taken for pleasure or non-medical reasons. Although, it is debated that many people who use marijuana recreationally are self-medicating. Often times, it is used in social situations, but can also be used in solitude with the goal of achieving a euphoric high. This high is caused by a chemical called tetrahydrocannabinol or THC. TCH attaches to cannabinoid receptors in the brain, triggering a release of dopamine that contributes to the high.

A Brief History of Marijuana in the U.S.

Ever wonder how pot was banned? The prohibition began in 1911 in Massachusetts. By 1937, marijuana was outlawed in 10 states. Samuel L. Caldwell and Moses Baca were the first citizens to be convicted under federal law of selling marijuana in 1937. Fast forward to 2012 where recreational use was legalized in both Colorado and Washington, preceded by legalization of medical marijuana in certain states. 

So here we are — 2016. A lot has changed since 1911. Below is an up-to-date reference of where it is legal to do what.

Where Recreational Use is Legal 








Washington, D.C.

Where Medical Use is Legal



New Mexico

*North Dakota











New York


New Hampshire



* Laws were recently passed and may not be in effect yet.

Going forward, we are likely to see changes to these lists. Like it or not, we are seeing a pro-marijuana trend in our country. Medicinal and recreational marijuana use appears to be on a swift path to becoming a norm.

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Jacqueline Waple - University of North Carolina at Wilmington

Jacqueline is majoring in environmental science at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. She loves traveling and being outdoors. Follow her on Instagram: @naturally.jackie

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