Marijuana legalization is sweeping the country. As of Election Day 2020, adult recreational use is legal in 15 states. Though it’s still illegal on a federal level, that soon may change if Democrats keep their promise.
So what exactly is marijuana legalization? 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|
Timeline of U.S. cannabis legalization
Adults 21 and older can enjoy recreational use of marijuana on private property in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, South Dakota, Vermont, Washington State, and Washington, D.C. Some form of medical marijuana is available in nearly all other U.S. states.
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
It is legal for adults to grow marijuana plants for recreational use in Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and the District of Columbia. Unique state laws vary by the number of plants permitted in total, the number of flowering plants permitted at one time, and if a dispensary is in proximity.
For detailed information per state, view our article on marijuana cultivation laws by state.
Which states will be next to legalize?
Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Rhode Island are all on track to legalize marijuana in 2021. Talk of federal legalization has made recent headlines, with the Democrat party promising to make headway in the coming year. The MORE Act (Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act) was passed by the House in December 2020.
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.