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What States Have Legalized Marijuana?

legalized marijuana

Marijuana laws can be confusing in the United States, not least due to the fact that while marijuana remains illegal under federal law, for use or possession, due to the controlled substances act of 1970, many states have at least started marijuana decriminalization. Some states have allowed medical marijuana only, with several states limiting this to CBD products, while others have gone as far as legalizing recreational marijuana.

According to federal laws cannabis is classified as a schedule 1 substance meaning it is deemed to have no medical purposes and have a high potential for abuse. Marijuana possession carries a misdemeanors penalty of up to 12 months in prison and a minimum $1000 fine for a first offense and increases to a felony for a second offense. Although state cannabis law does not override federal law the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment does prohibit the justice department from interfering with cases where individuals have complied with state with legalized marijuana.

If you are traveling from state to state it is worthwhile finding out what the laws are in the state that you are visiting. It is also worth remembering that even if cannabis has been legally obtained and is legal in two neighboring states carrying it across state lines remains illegal. This is due to the fact that cannabis remains illegal under federal law and the federal government maintains jurisdiction of interstate commerce or anything that crosses state lines.


When a state decriminalizes marijuana they are not making marijuana legal however possession will be treated as a non-criminal offense generally resulting in a fine and no criminal record. Law enforcement also tends to be more relaxed in states where cannabis has been decriminalized.

A number of states have decriminalized cannabis including Nebraska, Virginia, North Carolina and Mississippi. With other states such as North Dakota, Minnesota, Ohio, New York and Rhode Island both decriminalizing and having a medical marijuana law, although possession limits vary between states.

Oregon became the first state to decriminalize cannabis in 1973 with many other states following suit in the next 5 years. There was then a lull in decriminalization after Nebraska decriminalized weed in 1978 and the next state to decriminalize was Nevada in 2001.

Medical Marijuana Legalization

In 1996 California became the first state to legalize the medical use of marijuana and many states have since followed suit including West Virginia and Oklahoma. Marijuana remains completely illegal in South Dakota with Kansas, Idaho, South Carolina and Alabama among others only allowing cannabidiol CBD oil for medicinal purposes.

Marijuana and cannabis oil have been found to have a number of therapeutic purposes including providing pain relief for those with terminal illnesses, treating epilepsy and other seizure disorders, helping with debilitating disorders such as muscular dystrophy and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and providing relief for patients with cancer, glaucoma, anxiety, insomnia and many other conditions.

When a state legalizes medical marijuana by passing a medical marijuana bill they will generally have a medical marijuana program where medical marijuana patients can get a recommendation that approves medical marijuana use and be put on a register providing they have a qualifying condition.

Marijuana patients on a medical cannabis program then have access to a medical marijuana dispensary where they are able to obtain marijuana, cannabis oil or other cannabis products. Different states allow patients different amounts of marijuana with California not specifying possession limits for medical marijuana users whereas recreational marijuana users can possess one ounce of marijuana and grow up to six plants.

In New Mexico recreational weed has been decriminalized. They have a Medical Cannabis Program created under the Lynn and Erin Compassionate use act which legalizes medical marijuana meaning patients and their carers will not be prosecuted for possession providing it does not exceed an adequate supply and are able to apply for a license to grow marijuana plants.

Legal Recreational Marijuana & State Legalized Marijuana

Despite still being illegal at the federal level recreational marijuana is now legal in Alaska, California, Colorado, Illinois, Main, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington and D.C the District of Columbia.

In 2012 Washington and Colorado became the first states to legalize weed for recreational use through popular ballot measures. Alaska and Oregon legalized recreational cannabis in 2014 and California, Nevada, Maine, and Massachusetts all approved ballot measures to legalize in 2016. The latest state to legalize was Illinois in 2019, becoming the first state to use the state legislature to legalize recreational commercial sale.

In these states adults over the age of 21 can purchase recreational marijuana legally but not all states have established a legal market for recreational weed where recreational cannabis can be bought from marijuana dispensaries. For example, recreational marijuana is legal in D.C in so far as you are allowed to possess and grow it but there is no legal market. Whereas in California there are separate dispensaries licensed for recreational sales where any resident over the age of 21 can go and purchase cannabis legally. Marijuana sales are subject to marijuana taxes in most states but these vary according to local jurisdiction.

One of the biggest arguments for legalization is the fact that the industry can then be regulated and taxed. Sales taxes from recreational pot can be used by states in a number of ways. In California tax revenue is used to pay for administration costs with any surplus being used to fund programs related to drug use. Colorado directs the funds to educational programs and Washington uses the revenue for healthcare programs. In 2018 cannabis taxes in Colorado were approximately six times the revenue collected from taxes on alcohol.

Often sales taxes are higher on recreational cannabis than they are on cannabis licensed for medical purposes meaning you can save money if you have a medical card. If you need a medical card you can apply online today and receive your letter of recommendation from a registered doctor in minutes.