The number of US states and territories with legal recreational marijuana has increased dramatically since 2012, when Colorado and Washington became the first jurisdictions to approve the reform. As of July 2021, there are 18 states where cannabis is legal for all purposes, plus Washington, DC, and the territories of Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CMNI). And seven of those marijuana legal states enacted the measure in the first half of 2021. On top of that, South Dakota voters approved a ballot measure on Election Day 2020 to legalize adult-use cannabis, but it’s currently subject to a legal challenge in the state’s Supreme Court. Nonetheless, 145 million Americans now live in recreational marijuana legal states – around 44 percent of the population.
While the marijuana legalization movement continues to gather pace, states with legal cannabis have taken different approaches toward the reform concerning, for instance, personal possession limits and the rules and regulations governing state-legal cannabis markets. The following is a brief overview of the cannabis laws in place in all 21 territories and states where recreational marijuana is legal.
While low-level possession and cultivation of cannabis for personal use has been decriminalized in Alaska since 1975, it wasn’t until 53 percent of voters approved Ballot Measure 2 in 2014 that state officials moved to pass enabling legislation in 2015 for a legal cannabis market. In line with the ballot’s proposals, adults 21 and older can legally possess up to one ounce of marijuana flower, seven grams of concentrates and grow up to six plants at home – only three of which can be flowering at any given time – at a maximum of 12 per household. The first recreational dispensaries in Alaska opened their doors in 2016, and in 2019 it became the first state to allow on-site licensed cannabis consumption lounges statewide. Home delivery of cannabis products, however, remains prohibited.
Arizona joined the fast-growing list of legal cannabis states when voters approved Prop 207 on Election Day 2020, which allowed for the possession, use and sale of cannabis by adults 21 and older. Possession is limited to one ounce of marijuana and five grams of concentrates, while cultivation of up to six plants for personal use is also permitted at a maximum of 12 per household. The first retail sales launched in January 2021, meaning Arizona state officials and lawmakers implemented the voter-approved amendment faster than any state had done before.
Twenty years since California became the first state with a full medical cannabis program, 56 percent of residents voted for Proposition 64 in 2016 to legalize recreational marijuana. The measure permits adults 21 and older to possess up to one ounce of cannabis flower, eight grams of concentrates and cultivate up to six plants at home regardless of maturity. Retail sales began on January 1, 2018, though local jurisdictions can opt out of allowing dispensaries to operate in their area but they cannot restrict a person’s right to possess and grow marijuana for personal use. California’s recreational marijuana laws also allow for on-site cannabis consumption lounges, subject to licensing requirements.
Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CMNI)
CMNI became the first US jurisdiction to legalize recreational marijuana without an existing medical cannabis program in place when Gov. Ralph Torres signed a reform measure into law in September 2018. Adults 21 and older in the US territory can legally possess and grow personal quantities of marijuana. The law change also allows for commercial cultivation and sales of cannabis, with the first licensed retailers opening for business in 2020.
In 2012, 54 percent of Colorado voters approved Amendment 64 to legalize personal possession and use of marijuana, as well as compel state lawmakers to establish the rules and regulations for a legal cannabis industry. Adults 21 and older can legally possess up to one ounce of marijuana or marijuana-infused products (two ounces for medical cannabis patients), eight grams of concentrates and grow up to six plants, three of which can be flowering, at a maximum of 12 per household. In 2019, state lawmakers passed legislation allowing recreational dispensaries and other hospitality venues to apply for a new business license permitting on-site consumption of marijuana products purchased from the retailer or another location.
Connecticut legalized recreational cannabis through the legislature and the measure took effect on July 1, 2021. Adults 21 and older can now legally possess up to 1.5 ounces of marijuana flower, or its equivalent in concentrates, in public and up to five ounces at home, while home cultivation of up to six plants – at a maximum of 12 per household – is permitted but only starting from July 1, 2023. Medical marijuana patients, however, can grow their own plants from the fall of 2021. The new law also provides for commercial cultivation and retail sales of cannabis, which are anticipated to launch early next year, though local jurisdictions can decide to opt out of allowing this.
District of Columbia
69 percent of DC voters approved Initiative 71 in 2014 to remove criminal and civil penalties for possession of up to two ounces of cannabis and cultivation of up to six plants at home. The measure does not provide for legal commercial production or sales of recreational marijuana as such a move would require approval from the US Congress. Adults 21 and older can, however, gift one another small quantities of cannabis without fear of reprisals.
Guam enacted legislation legalizing possession, cultivation and sales of cannabis in 2019. Adults 21 and older can legally possess and gift up to one ounce of marijuana flower, eight grams of concentrates and grow up to six plants with a limit of three mature plants. The US territory’s marijuana regulator had a year to adopt the rules for the legal cannabis market but owing to the coronavirus pandemic this has been delayed, so the first retail adult-use dispensaries are yet to open their doors.
Illinois’ marijuana legalization law, passed with Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s signature in June 2019, took effect on January 1, 2020 with legal sales launching that day. Illinois residents 21 and older can legally purchase and possess up to 30 grams of marijuana flower and five grams of concentrates, while out-of-state visitors are permitted to possess half these amounts. Home cultivation, however, is only permitted for registered medical marijuana patients.
Following voter approval of a 2016 ballot initiative to legalize recreational cannabis and establish a legal market, Maine lawmakers eventually passed enabling legislation in May 2018 which slightly watered down some of the original measure’s proposals. Adults 21 and older can legally possess up to two and a half ounces of marijuana flower, and grow up to three plants instead of the six put forward in the ballot measure. Lawmakers also decided to repeal a provision allowing for on-site cannabis consumption lounges but will consider the issue again in 2023, and they inserted language in the final marijuana legalization bill to make it easier for local jurisdictions to prohibit cannabis businesses. The approved act provides for commercial marijuana production and retail sales, but the first recreational dispensaries didn’t open for business till September 2020.
Massachusetts voters approved a 2016 ballot measure to legalize and regulate recreational cannabis, with retail sales launching in November 2018. Adults 21 and older can legally possess and purchase up to one ounce of marijuana and five grams of concentrates in public, and up to ten ounces of flower, and its equivalent in concentrates, at home. Adults can also grow up to six marijuana plants with a cap of 12 plants per household.
In 2018, voters in Michigan approved Proposal 1 to legalize marijuana possession, as well as regulate its production and sale. After lawmakers put enabling legislation into effect in December 2018, adults 21 and older can legally possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana flower, 15 grams of concentrates and grow up to 12 plants at home for personal use. The first recreational dispensaries started operating on December 1, 2019, but jurisdictions can choose to opt out of allowing cannabis businesses in their locality.
On Election Day 2020, Montana voters passed Initiative 190 to legalize the use, production and sale of cannabis, as well as approving a separate measure to restrict the plant’s legal use to adults 21 and older. Montana lawmakers amended certain provisions from the original proposal in the final legislation, including reducing the number of mature marijuana plants an adult can legally grow from four to two, with a maximum of four per household. Maine’s marijuana legalization bill permits possession of up to one ounce of cannabis and eight grams of concentrates, and compels the state’s cannabis regulator to issue retail licenses for dispensaries by January 1, 2022. The enabling legislation passed by lawmakers also requires counties that voted against Initiative 190 to hold a new vote on whether or not to opt in to retail cannabis sales.
Recreational cannabis possession became legal in Nevada on January 1, 2017, following voter approval of the Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act in November 2016. Adults 21 and older who are not part of the state’s medical cannabis program can legally possess up to one ounce of flower and 3.5 grams of concentrates, but home cultivation is only permitted for those who live farther than 25 miles away from a recreational marijuana retailer. Legal sales of adult-use cannabis started in Nevada on July 1, 2017, while Gov. Steve Sisolak signed a bill into law in June 2021 that allows hospitality venues to apply for a license permitting on-site marijuana consumption lounges.
New Jersey voted to amend the state’s constitution on Election Day 2020 to allow for adult-use possession of marijuana, as well as for the commercial production and sale of the plant. It took lawmakers until February 2021 to approve enabling legislation, which was then signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy and took effect on July 1, 2021. Adults 21 and older can now legally possess up to six ounces of marijuana flower or 17 grams of hash but home cultivation remains prohibited. The state’s cannabis regulator is currently drawing up the rules and regulations for the cannabis industry in New Jersey, with legal retail sales anticipated to launch in early 2022.
In April 2021, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a recreational marijuana legalization bill into law. It took effect on June 29, 2021, from which date adults 21 and older can legally possess up to two ounces of marijuana flower and 16 grams of cannabis extract in public, with no set possession limits at private residences. Adults can also cultivate up to 12 plants at home for personal use, and apply for a permit if they wish to grow more. New Mexico’s bill to legalize cannabis created a new state agency to establish the rule and regulations of the legal cannabis industry, with the first retail sales expected to launch in April 2022.
New York lawmakers finally reached an agreement with Gov. Andrew Cuomo on the specifics of marijuana legalization in the state in March 2021 with the passage into law of the Marihuana Regulation and Taxation Act. Provisions allowing adults 21 and older to possess up to three ounces of marijuana flower and 24 grams of concentrates took immediate effect, while those permitting home cultivation of up to six cannabis plants at a maximum of 12 per household won’t enter into force until 2022. The new law created the Office of Cannabis Management which is charged with overseeing all marijuana and hemp-related matters in the state. It’s currently drafting regulations for the legal marijuana industry, with sales expected to start early in 2022.
Oregon residents opted to legalize recreational cannabis through Measure 91, which was approved by 56 percent of voters in November 2014. The subsequent enabling legislation took effect on July 1, 2015, allowing adults 21 and older to possess up to eight ounces of cannabis flower and grow up to four plants. The first recreational cannabis dispensaries opened on January 1, 2017, and under the rules drawn up by the state regulator, it’s legal to purchase up to one ounce of cannabis flower and five grams of concentrates per day from a licensed retailer.
Vermont was the first state to legalize recreational cannabis through the legislature, with the reform taking effect on July 1, 2018. Adults 21 and older can legally possess up to one ounce of marijuana and grow up to six plants at home, two of which can be mature. Cannabis grown at home doesn’t count toward the personal possession limit. Vermont’s initial marijuana legalization law didn’t contain provisions allowing for the creation of a regulated adult-use cannabis industry but separate legislation to this effect was passed by lawmakers and signed into law by Gov. Phil Scott in 2020. The first retail licenses, however, aren’t due to be issued until early in 2022.
Virginia became the first state with legal marijuana in the south when Gov. Ralph Northam signed a marijuana legalization bill into law in April 2021. The measure took effect on July 1, 2021, and permits possession of up to one ounce of cannabis flower and home cultivation of up to four plants by adults 21 and older. Separate provisions in the new law require state officials to establish the rules and regulations of a legal marijuana market in Virginia, but sales are not anticipated to start until July 2024.
Alongside Colorado, Washington was one of the first legal marijuana states when 55 percent of voters approved Initiative 502 in 2012. The subsequent legislation passed by lawmakers took effect on December 6, 2012, and permits adults 21 and older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana flower and seven grams of concentrates but home cultivation for personal use remains prohibited. Oregon’s marijuana legalization law also established the regulatory framework for the state’s cannabis industry, with recreational sales launching in July 2014.