Book:Past, Present, and Future of Cannabis Laboratory Testing and Regulation in the United States/Regulation, standardization, and quality/State and local regulation

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2.2 State and local regulation

Note: It would be beyond the scope of this guide to include every state's laws and guidelines on cannabis testing and consumption; entities such as Leafly Holdings[1] and NORML[2] provide such online resources.

As of July 2022, thirty-eight U.S. states and the District of Columbia (D.C.) have approved broad legalization of medicinal marijuana, with 19 U.S. states and D.C. also approving recreational marijuana.[3] In October 1973, Oregon became the first state to enact decriminalization laws for marijuana, imposing a $100 fine for possession of less than an ounce. Eleven other states followed a similar path within five years.[4] The next wave of changes began with the passage of medical marijuana legislation in California—the Compassionate Use Act—in November 1996, followed by similar legislation in Oregon and Alaska in 1998, Maine in 1999, and Colorado, Hawaii, and Nevada in 2000.[5][6] Other states continued to add decriminalization and medical marijuana laws in the 2000s. But it wasn't until 2012 that Colorado and Washington became the first states to make recreational marijuana legal, followed by Alaska, Oregon, and the District of Columbia in 2014.[5] Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada followed suit in 2016[7], with Michigan doing the same in 2018.[8]

As shown by Cambron et al. in 2016 (before the November election results)[5], dispensaries, possession limits, and interstate ID card acceptance can vary significantly among affected states. California, Colorado, Michigan, Oregon, and Washington led in number of dispensaries; Massachusetts, Oregon, and Washington in maximum possession limits; and Arizona plus five others allowed ID cards from other states. Yet allowed dispensaries numbered in the single digits, possession limits were as low as one ounce, and numerous states still didn't honor ID cards from other states.[5]

Then there's the matter of state differences in testing, enforcement, advertising allowances, etc. It helps to turn to professional associations and organizations—who often lead the charge for improved, more relevant standards—to sort through the variances. In 2016, the Association of Public Health Laboratories (APHL), for example, published its Guidance for State Medical Cannabis Testing Programs to help sort through the confusing tangle of existing testing laws, where they exist. They highlight this variation of law in their guidance document[9]:

As with most programs in the United States, every state takes a different approach. For example as of January 2016, New Jersey’s Public Health & Environmental Laboratories only test cannabis plant material. Just across the Hudson, however, New York’s Public Health Laboratory will not be testing any plant material, only cannabis extracts. In addition, the New York Department of Health will provide an oversight role for commercial cannabis laboratories that are licensed by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and approved for testing cannabis products. On the other hand, New Jersey state government does all testing in-house for the medical cannabis program.

As such, unlike their federal counterpart, it's difficult to make broad generalizations about cannabis regulations and their enforcement in the states. It becomes even more difficult when examining states that don't have clear, well-considered regulations or strong enforcement powers. Cambron et al. emphasized this issue in regards to the supply side, saying: "States without clearly defined regulations for medical cannabis supply have fostered gray markets for cannabis whereby individuals without documented medical conditions are able to easily obtain medical cannabis authorizations. This scenario has created substantial challenges for law enforcement in multiple states."[5]

Cole et al. argue that in the end, it will take pressure on the federal government "to set up policy guardrails to steer state regulatory systems" in a more unified and safe direction. Drugged driving, use by minors, interstate distribution, relation to crime and firearms, consumer safety, and advertising are all issues the government should be tackling towards that goal, they say. Not that states aren't addressing these regulatory concerns; they are, but not in consistent ways.[10][11]


  1. Leafly Staff (24 February 2020). "Leafly’s State-by-State Guide to Medical Cannabis Testing Regulations". Leafly - Industry. Leafly Holdings, Inc. Retrieved 08 July 2022. 
  2. "State Laws". NORML Foundation. 2022. Retrieved 08 July 2022. 
  3. Berke, J.; Gal, S.; Lee, Y.J. (6 January 2021). "Marijuana legalization is sweeping the US. See every state where cannabis is legal". Business Insider. Insider, Inc. Retrieved 08 July 2022. 
  4. Single, E.W. (1981). "The Impact of Marijuana Decriminalization". In Israel, Y.; Glaser, F.B.; Kalant, H. et al.. Research Advances in Alcohol and Drug Problems. Springer US. pp. 405–424. doi:10.1007/978-1-4615-7740-9_12. ISBN 9781461577409. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 Cambron, C.; Guttmannova, K.; Fleming, C.B. (2017). "State and National Contexts in Evaluating Cannabis Laws: A Case Study of Washington State". Journal of Drug Issues 47 (1): 74–90. doi:10.1177/0022042616678607. 
  6. "Election Summary Report, State of Alaska 1998 General Election: Official Results". Election Results. State of Alaska Division of Elections. 1 December 1998. Retrieved 08 July 2022. 
  7. Burke, C. (4 January 2017). "Four More States Pass New Marijuana Laws: California, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada". National Law Review. National Law Forum, LLC. Retrieved 08 July 2022. 
  8. Chappell, B. (7 November 2018). "Voters Relax Marijuana Laws In 3 More States: Michigan, Utah, Missouri". NPR. Retrieved 08 July 2022. 
  9. Association of Public Health Laboratories (May 2016). "Guidance for State Medical Cannabis Testing Programs" (PDF). pp. 35. Retrieved 08 July 2022. 
  10. Cole, T.; Trumble, S.; Hatalsky, L.E. (17 February 20116). "All State Marijuana Laws Are Not Created Equal". Third Way. Retrieved 08 July 2022. 
  11. "A Growing Industry Navigates Conflicting State and Federal Cannabis Laws". Bloomberg Law. The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. 6 June 2022. Retrieved 08 July 2022.