Where Marijuana Is Legal

Marijuana remains fully illegal under federal law, even though there are a growing number of states who have passed legislation to legalize consumption for both medical and/or recreational purposes. In fact, as of 2021, 16 states have legalized both recreational and medical marijuana. Nine more states have legalized medical marijuana and decriminalized recreational use. Of the remaining 24 states, one is legal for medical, and seventeen have decriminalized possession.

The landscape of states approving marijuana legislation keep changing. For example, even in those states where marijuana is fully illegal bills are sponsored for legalization of some kind which fail to be passed due to the political aspect or government fear.

It is useful to remember that Colorado and Washington, the first states to legalize marijuana, passed legislation in 2012, less than 10 years ago. Closely followed in 2014 by Alaska, Oregon and Washington DC in 2014.

States Where Marijuana is Fully Legal

The list of states where marijuana is legal and when legalized:

Washington DC2014
District of Columbia2014
New Jersey2020
South Dakota**2020
New York2021
Mew Mexico2021
* On November 3, 2020, 57 percent of Montana voters decided in favor of Initiative 190, to legalize the use, possession, cultivation, and retail sale of marijuana for adults. Since the new law went into effect on January 1, 2021, there have been several attempts by lawmakers to impose delays and other restrictions on the voter-approved law.
** In the November 2020 election, South Dakota voters approved two separate measures to do away with the state’s nearly century-old prohibition on marijuana. Measure 26 legalized medical marijuana with about 70% of ballots cast in favor. At the same time, Constitutional Amendment A to legalize recreational marijuana also earned support from a majority of South Dakotans, with about 54% of all ballots cast favoring the end of prohibition in the state. The initiative quickly came under fire by Gov. Kristi Noem, who used the courts to block recreational marijuana and the influence of her office to pressure the Legislature to stand in the way of medical marijuana.

Legalization Status of other States

Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have legalized small amounts of marijuana (typically less than an ounce) for adult recreational use as of April 2021, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

In spring of 2020, New Mexico, New York and Virginia became the most recent states to legalize adult recreational use. Overall, 43% of U.S. adults now live in a jurisdiction that has legalized the recreational use of marijuana at the local level, according to 2019 population estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau. Guam, a U.S. territory, legalized the recreational use of marijuana in 2019, and the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. commonwealth, did so in 2018.

Three dozen states, as well as D.C., Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, have approved some form of a medical marijuana program. Numerous states have also enacted laws reducing criminal penalties for certain marijuana-related convictions or allowing past convictions to be expunged.

Medical Marijuana Card

In those states where marijuana is still criminalized, does possession of a medical marijuana card protect you from arrest? That depends on the state, but where it is illegal, you should expect the medical card will not be a sufficient to prevent a police officer from issuing a ticket or even placing you under arrest.

Certain states do respect medical marijuana cards of other states, should you need to replenish supplies, but do check local laws first. It appears as if the government is not with the people on the question of legalization (certainly the case in Montana and South Dakota).

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