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. 

What is marijuana legalization?

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, some only allow non-intoxicating CBD use, and a few still completely prohibit any form of the plant.

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

 

 

View Your State Laws

Timeline of 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.

1996

California legalized medical marijuana use

California legalized medical marijuana use

California become the first place in the world to legalize the medicinal use of marijuana when voters enacted Proposition 215 at the ballot.

1998

Oregon legalized medical marijuana use

Oregon legalized medical marijuana use

Oregon voted to remove criminal penalties for the medicinal use of marijuana by enacting Ballot Measure 67.

1998

Alaska legalized medical marijuana use

Alaska legalized medical marijuana use

Medical marijuana became legal in Alaska when voters approved Alaska Measure 8 at the ballot.

1998

Washington legalized medical marijuana use

Washington legalized medical marijuana use

Washington state voters enacted Washington Initiative 692 at the ballot, allowing marijuana to be used for debilitating medical conditions.

1999

Maine legalized medical marijuana use

Maine legalized medical marijuana use

Maine voters approved Maine Medical Marijuana for Specific Illnesses, known as Question 2, at the ballot by a wide margin.

2000

Hawaii legalized medical marijuana use

Hawaii legalized medical marijuana use

Hawaii became the first state to enact medical marijuana laws by legislation, instead of ballot initiative, when the governor signed Act 228 into law.

2000

Nevada legalized medical marijuana use

Nevada legalized medical marijuana use

Medical cannabis became legal in Nevada when voters approved the Nevada Medical Marijuana Act, or Question 9, at the ballot. The law allows possession of 2.5 ounces of marijuana, and patients are also allowed to cultivate up to 12 mature plants at home.

2000

Colorado legalized medical marijuana use

Colorado legalized medical marijuana use

Colorado voters approved the Colorado Medical Use of Marijuana Act, or Initiative 20, at the ballot in 2000.

2004

Vermont legalized medical marijuana use

Vermont legalized medical marijuana use

Vermont enacted medical marijuana by state legislation.

2004

Montana legalized medical marijuana use

Montana legalized medical marijuana use

Voters in Montana approved the Montana Medical Marijuana Allowance (I-148), allowing the cultivation and possession of marijuana for those with debilitating medical conditions.

2006

Rhode Island legalized medical marijuana use

Rhode Island legalized medical marijuana use

The Edward O. Hawkins and Thomas C. Slater Medical Marijuana Act allowed licensed patients to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana, plus 12 plants and seedlings.

2007

New Mexico legalized medical marijuana use

New Mexico legalized medical marijuana use

Governor Bill Richardson signed a bill into law establishing a medical marijuana program in the state.

2008

Michigan legalized medical marijuana use

Michigan legalized medical marijuana use

Voters in Michigan approved The Michigan Medical Marijuana Initiative – or Proposal 1 – at the ballot on 2008.

2010

New Jersey legalized medical marijuana use

New Jersey legalized medical marijuana use

The New Jersey legislature approved a measure allowing patients with chronic illness to use medical marijuana.

2010

Arizona legalized medical marijuana use

Arizona legalized medical marijuana use

Medical marijuana was legalized in Arizona when a slim majority of voters approved Proposition 203 at the ballot.

2011

Delaware legalized medical marijuana use

Delaware legalized medical marijuana use

The Delaware state legislature approved Senate Bill 17, the Delaware Medical Marijuana Act, in 2011.

2012

Connecticut legalized medical marijuana use

Connecticut legalized medical marijuana use

Connecticut became the 17th U.S. state to legalize medical marijuana when then Governor Dannel Malloy signed new legislation into law.

2012

Massachusetts legalized medical marijuana use

Massachusetts legalized medical marijuana use

Medical marijuana has been permitted in Massachusetts since voters approved the Massachusetts Medical Marijuana Initiative – or Question 3 – at the ballot.

2012

Washington State legalized recreational use

Washington State legalized recreational use

Adults in Washington are allowed to possess up to an ounce of marijuana for personal use.

2012

Colorado legalized recreational use

Colorado legalized recreational use

It is legal for adults 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana in Colorado.

2013

New Hampshire legalized medical marijuana use

New Hampshire legalized medical marijuana use

New Hampshire became the 19th state to legalize medical marijuana when then Governor Maggie Hassan signed a bill into law.

2013

Illinois legalized medical marijuana use

Illinois legalized medical marijuana use

Illinois legalized medical marijuana when then Governor Pat Quinn signed into law the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act.

2014

Maryland legalized medical marijuana use

Maryland legalized medical marijuana use

Medical marijuana became legal in Maryland when then Governor Martin O’Malley signed House Bill 881 into law.

2014

New York legalized medical marijuana use

New York legalized medical marijuana use

Medical marijuana was legalized in New York when Governor Andrew Cuomo signed new legislation into law.

2015

Alaska legalized recreational use

Alaska legalized recreational use

Marijuana was made legal for recreational use by voters in Alaska in 2014, and can be purchased from licensed retail stores.

2015

D.C. legalized recreational use

D.C. legalized recreational use

The legal status of marijuana falls into an unsettled legal gray area in the nation’s capital. Marijuana use, possession and cultivation are legal, but sale is not.

2015

Oregon legalized recreational use

Oregon legalized recreational use

It is legal to purchase and use marijuana for recreational use in Oregon.

2015

Minnesota legalized medical marijuana use

Minnesota legalized medical marijuana use

After trial legislation in 2003 that reduced penalties for those using marijuana for medical necessity, Minnesota passed a comprehensive medical marijuana law.

2016

Pennsylvania legalized medical marijuana use

Pennsylvania legalized medical marijuana use

Medical marijuana became legal in Pennsylvania when the state legislature passed the Medical Marijuana Act.

2016

Ohio legalized medical marijuana use

Ohio legalized medical marijuana use

Ohio legalized marijuana use for a long list of medical conditions when Governor John Kasich signed House Bill 523 into law.

2016

Arkansas legalized medical marijuana use

Arkansas legalized medical marijuana use

Arkansas voters legalized medical marijuana when they approved the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment – or Issue 6 – at the ballot.

2016

Florida legalized medical marijuana use

Florida legalized medical marijuana use

Voters in Florida approved the Florida Medical Marijuana Legalization – or Amendment 2 – at the ballot.

2016

North Dakota legalized medical marijuana use

North Dakota legalized medical marijuana use

Voters in North Dakota approved North Dakota Measure 5 at the ballot, legalizing medical marijuana in the state.

2017

Nevada legalized recreational use

Nevada legalized recreational use

Nevada’s marijuana legalization measure was approved by 55 percent of voters in 2016. Question 2 made it legal for adults to legally possess an ounce of marijuana.

2017

West Virginia legalized medical marijuana use

West Virginia legalized medical marijuana use

West Virginia became the 29th U.S. state to legalize cannabis for medical purposes when Gov. Jim Justice signed a Senate Bill 386 into law.

2018

California legalized recreational use

California legalized recreational use

With MMJ legal in the state since 1996, California has one of the strongest marijuana cultures in the world. The state legalized recreational use of the drug, through Proposition 64 (also known as the AUMA), at the ballot in 2016.

2018

Maine legalized recreational use

Maine legalized recreational use

Maine legalized marijuana at the ballot in 2016. The new law allows adults aged 21 and older to possess and cultivate cannabis for recreation.

2018

Oklahoma legalized medical marijuana use

Oklahoma legalized medical marijuana use

Marijuana was legalized for medical use in Oklahoma when voters approved State Question 788 at the ballot.

2018

Massachusetts legalized recreational use

Massachusetts legalized recreational use

Marijuana became legal in Massachusetts when 54 percent of voters approved Question 4 at the ballot.

2018

Vermont legalized recreational use

Vermont legalized recreational use

Vermont’s marijuana laws allow adults aged 21 and older to legally possess up to an ounce of marijuana. Per Vermont S. 54, localities in Vermont must opt-in to participate in the state’s recreational marijuana programs.

2018

Utah legalized medical marijuana use

Utah legalized medical marijuana use

Utah voters legalized the medicinal use of marijuana at the ballot in 2018. Patients with any of a long list of conditions are eligible.

2018

Michigan legalized recreational use

Michigan legalized recreational use

Michigan’s adult use law permits marijuana possession, and retail sales at licensed dispensaries. Home cultivation and cannabis concentrates are also allowed.

2018

Missouri legalized medical marijuana use

Missouri legalized medical marijuana use

Missouri voters legalized the medicinal use of marijuana in November 2018 for treatment of a long list of medical conditions.

2020

Illinois legalized recreational use

Governor J.B. Pritzker signed into law the Illinois Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act, thus legalizing recreational marijuana use by those 21 years and older. Illinois is the first state in the nation to legalize marijuana through a state legislature, rather than a ballot initiative.

2020

Arizona legalized recreational use

Arizona voters legalized recreational adult-use of marijuana on Election Day 2020 with the passing of the Smart and Safe Arizona Act.

2021

New Jersey legalized recreational use

On January 1, 2021, recreational adult-use of marijuana became legal under Public Question 1 approved by voters on Election Day 2020. 

2021

Montana legalized recreational use

As of January 1, 2021, adults may possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana and 8 grams of concentrates. 

2021

South Dakota legalized recreational and medical use

South Dakota approved recreational and medical marijuana legalization simultaneously when voters approved both measures at the 2020 ballot. Legalization will take effect on July 1, 2021, permitting adults 21 and older to possess 1 ounce of cannabis (not to exceed 8 grams of concentrates) and grow three plants. 

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 mature (flowering) 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?

New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Virginia, 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.

Support for Marijuana Legalization USA

Source: Gallup