The past year has been a whirlwind for marijuana legalization in the US.

Seven states legalized adult-use cannabis and another two passed medical marijuana laws. This brings the total number of states where marijuana is legal for medical purposes to 36, while it is (or will soon be) available for recreational use in 18 states.

Meanwhile, there’s been a bigger push for cannabis reform at the federal level, with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer readying a marijuana decriminalization bill while the Republicans introduced their own decriminalization measure by way of the States Reform Act.

With so much to process amid an ever-changing landscape for legal cannabis in the US, here’s a review of the major marijuana reforms in 2021.


Medical marijuana was legalized in Alabama on May 17, though the enacted version of SB 46 was a lot more restrictive than the original measure after passing through several legislative committees.

The new law permits patients with one or more of around 20 listed conditions to seek medical cannabis treatment at the recommendation of a physician authorized to do so. To become authorized, a physician must follow a four-hour course and pass an exam, then take refresher courses every two years.

Cannabis flower and marijuana-infused edibles remain prohibited. The only permitted consumption methods are capsules, lozenges, inhalers, oils, topicals and suppositories.


Arizona launched retail sales of adult-use cannabis on January 22, little more than two months following voter-approval of a marijuana legalization ballot measure.

Adults 21 and older can now legally purchase up to one ounce of cannabis, including no more than five grams of concentrates, and grow up to six plants at home.


Gov. Ned Lamont actively pursued marijuana legalization in Connecticut and, despite considerable opposition, was able to enact a bill to legalize recreational cannabis that included comprehensive social equity provisions.

Since July 1, marijuana possession of up to 1.5 ounces in public and five ounces at home is now legal in Connecticut for adults 21 and older. Retail sales are due to begin sometime in 2022.

Mississippi (overturned)

A voter-approved ballot measure to legalize medical marijuana in Mississippi was controversially overturned by the state Supreme Court due to an administrative technicality.

Though more than 73 percent of voters approved the proposed constitutional amendment, the state constitution requires voter support in all five of Mississippi’s congressional districts.

The trouble is there have only been four such districts since 2000, making this requirement impossible to fulfil.

This wasn’t an issue for previous ballot initiatives, but despite requests for an appeal by the group behind the original medical marijuana proposal, the Supreme Court refused to consider it.


Following a voter-approved ballot initiative to legalize recreational cannabis, possession of up to one ounce of marijuana or eight grams of concentrates has been legal in Montana for adults 21 and older since January 1.

Recreational sales are expected to launch in 2022.

New Jersey

New Jersey voters also approved a ballot measure to legalize adult-use marijuana on Election Day 2020. Unlike in Arizona though, New Jersey lawmakers had to draft and pass legislation to put the result of the vote into effect.

After some delays, marijuana possession of up to six ounces or 17 grams of concentrates for adults 21 and older became legal in New Jersey on February 22.

Retail sales are due to start in 2022.

New Mexico

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham pushed hard to legalize recreational marijuana in New Mexico but after repeated obstructions in the legislature, she convened a special session to get the measure over the line which succeeded by a wafer-thin margin.

Possession of up to two ounces of cannabis flower or 16 grams of concentrates became legal for adults 21 and older on July 1.

Under the new law, New Mexico must launch legal cannabis sales by April 1, 2022.

New York

It took three years of heated debate between the legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration, but marijuana was finally legalized in New York on March 31 after clearing both chambers with a veto-proof supermajority.

It is now legal for adults 21 and older to possess up to three ounces of cannabis or 24 grams of concentrates, but recreational sales won’t start until 2022.

South Dakota (recreational legalization overturned)

South Dakota voters approved two cannabis-related ballot measures on Election Day 2020.

The first, a proposal to legalize medical marijuana, took effect on July 1 with few issues.

The measure to legalize adult-use cannabis didn’t fare so well. Gov. Kristi Noem’s administration funded a legal challenge to overturn the measure on the basis of it violating South Dakota’s single-subject rule for constitutional amendments.

This argument was accepted by a district court then reaffirmed by the Supreme Court following an appeal by the group behind the adult-use measure.


In February, Virginia’s legislature narrowly voted along partisan lines to legalize recreational cannabis.

Initially, the law wasn’t due to take effect until July 1, 2024, but Gov. Ralph Northam introduced an amendment to bring this date forward to July 1, 2021.

This only applies to marijuana possession of up to one ounce and cultivation of up to four plants at home. Lawmakers will once again have to vote on a measure to establish a legal cannabis market in Virginia, which is not due to launch until the summer of 2024.

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