California began allowing the sale of recreational marijuana on Monday, joining Alaska, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon and Washington. Massachusetts and possibly Maine are expected to begin sales this year. In all, 29 states and the District of Columbia have at least partly legalized the substance — including for medicinal use — though it remains illegal under federal law.
The move seemed certain to increase the confusion surrounding whether it is legal to sell, buy or possess marijuana in those parts of the United States where state and federal law conflict. Federal law has long prohibited those activities.
In 2013, after voters in Colorado and Washington State voted to decriminalize marijuana for recreational use, the Justice Department deliberated about how to handle the resulting disconnect between state and federal law. Ultimately, federal prosecutors were instructed to deprioritize most marijuana-related prosecutions in those states.