Updated: November 2023

Marijuana legalization continues to sweep the country at the state level but it still remains federally illegal.

What exactly is marijuana legalization though? How does it differ from other avenues of cannabis reform? How do states approach the cannabis issue? And what about the feds?

Terminology is important, although it isn’t always used correctly. The distinctions between the different levels of marijuana reform are critical, as activities that pass legal scrutiny in one place may lead to fines or even jail time in another.

The legalization of marijuana means that, as long as you abide by the state-specific cannabis laws, you will not be arrested, fined, or convicted for the use, possession, and cultivation of marijuana. Legalization also allows for a retail market where people can purchase cannabis. 

Each state has different laws regarding the specifics of marijuana legalization, so make sure to stay in the know.

Where is marijuana legal?

The legality of marijuana differs substantially from state to state. Some allow adult recreational use, others allow the use of medical marijuana by state-registered patients, and some only allow non-intoxicating CBD use.

The map below shows the legal status of marijuana by state.



State Legal Status Recreational Medical Marijuana Statewide Decriminalization
Alabama Medical No Yes No
Alaska Fully legal Yes Yes Yes
Arizona Fully legal Yes Yes Yes
Arkansas Medical No Yes No
California Fully legal Yes Yes Yes
Colorado Fully legal Yes Yes Yes
Connecticut Fully legal Yes Yes Yes
Delaware Fully legal Yes Yes Yes
Florida Medical No Yes No
Georgia Illegal No No No
Hawaii Medical No Yes Yes
Idaho Illegal No No No
Illinois Fully legal Yes Yes Yes
Indiana Illegal No No No
Iowa Medical No Yes No
Kansas Illegal No No No
Kentucky Illegal No No No
Louisiana Medical No Yes Yes
Maine Fully legal Yes Yes Yes
Maryland Fully legal Yes Yes Yes
Massachusetts Fully legal Yes Yes Yes
Michigan Fully legal Yes Yes Yes
Minnesota Fully legal Yes Yes Yes
Mississippi Medical No Yes Yes
Missouri Fully legal Yes Yes Yes
Montana Fully legal Yes Yes Yes
Nebraska Illegal No No Yes
Nevada Fully legal Yes Yes Yes
New Hampshire Fully legal Yes Yes Yes
New Jersey Fully legal Yes Yes Yes
New Mexico Fully legal Yes Yes Yes
New York Fully legal Yes Yes Yes
North Carolina Illegal No No Yes
North Dakota Medical No Yes Yes
Ohio Fully legal Yes Yes Yes
Oklahoma Medical No Yes No
Oregon Fully legal Yes Yes Yes
Pennsylvania Medical No Yes No
Rhode Island Fully legal Yes Yes Yes
South Carolina Illegal No No No
South Dakota Medical No Yes No
Tennessee Illegal No No No
Texas Illegal No No No
Utah Medical No Yes No
Vermont Fully legal Yes Yes Yes
Virginia Fully legal Yes Yes Yes
Washington Fully legal Yes Yes Yes
Washington, DC Fully legal Yes Yes Yes
West Virginia Medical No Yes No
Wisconsin Illegal No No No
Wyoming Illegal No No No

How you can legally obtain marijuana for recreational use

How to get your hands on marijuana for recreational use depends on your location.

The most popular method of obtaining recreational marijuana is to purchase it from a dispensary. Adults over 21 may legally purchase marijuana for recreation at retail stores often called dispensaries. However, some states that have legalized adult-use do not have dispensary programs in place at this time.

In most states with legal cannabis, residents 21 and older are permitted to cultivate their own cannabis at home. Growers must meet certain conditions, such as limiting the number of plants and keeping plants secured from public view. It is also legal to gift small amounts of cannabis, provided nothing else of value changes hands.

Marijuana cultivation laws

Most states that have legalized recreational cannabis allow adults 21 and older to grow marijuana for personal use at home. Some, however, only allow registered medical marijuana patients or their caregivers to do this.

State laws also vary by the number of plants permitted in total, the number of flowering plants permitted at one time, and if home cultivation is only permitted when there is no dispensary within a certain distance of your residence .

For more detailed information per state, view our guide on marijuana cultivation laws by state.

Legalization vs. decriminalization

The terms “legalization” and “decriminalization” are often used interchangeably. Both remove criminal penalties, but there are differences between the two.

True legalization means that a state allows for the operation of a marijuana industry and retail market where adults can buy, possess, and use the drug within constraints of local law.

States that have only decriminalized marijuana don’t allow retail markets or home cultivation, but will not prosecute for simple possession, and often replace criminal penalties with civil fines for low-level offenses.

U.S. public support for marijuana legalization

Public support for marijuana legalization has steadily increased in the United States over the past five decades. We’ve now reached a point where more than two-thirds of Americans support the complete legalization and acceptance of cannabis.

Support for Marijuana Legalization USA

Source: Gallup