A significant majority of American states have legalized medicinal marijuana. Meanwhile, the number of states that permit recreational cannabis grows annually. The nation’s northern neighbor, Canada, fully legalized weed in October 2018, and it is likely that Mexico, to the south, will also allow fully legal marijuana sooner rather than later.
The pressure is mounting on the American government to end more than 80 years of prohibition, but successive administrations have resisted calls to make the change. However, if you live in or visit a state where marijuana is recreationally legal, you can enjoy the substance hassle-free. That is if you’re aged 21+ and ensure you remain within the state’s possession and purchasing laws.
This article looks at every state (plus the District of Columbia) that has legalized recreational marijuana.
Marijuana was decriminalized in Alaska in 1975 but re-criminalized in 1990. The state veered between criminalization and decriminalization in the early 2000s. However, Measure 2, a ballot initiative to make marijuana legal for recreational use, was successful in 2014. It came into effect on February 24, 2015.
It was the third state to allow recreational cannabis, and adults aged 21+ can possess up to one ounce. Alaskans are also permitted to grow six marijuana plants, but only three can be mature and flowering at one time. Possession of marijuana accessories is also legal.
Arizonans have fought hard to bring cannabis to their state. They were rewarded when 50.1% of voters said ‘yes’ to Proposition 203 in 2010. It legalized the use of MMJ, and patients could possess up to 2.5 ounces. The state threatened to go further, but Proposition 205, designed to legalize recreational weed, narrowly failed in 2016.
The Smart and Safe Act allows adults to use up to one ounce of marijuana.
However, there was no stopping Proposition 207 in 2020. The Smart and Safe Act allows adults to use up to one ounce of marijuana. Also, every adult in Arizona will be allowed to grow up to six plants at home.
The Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) began issuing licenses in early 2021. Retail sales started in February 2021.
In 1975, possession of an ounce or less was downgraded to a misdemeanor. The Golden State had the country’s first ballot initiative to legalize pot through Proposition 19 in 1972. Although it was unsuccessful, it paved the way for California to become the first state to legalize medical marijuana in 1996 via Proposition 215.
It took a surprisingly long time for California to legalize recreational weed. It finally did so through Proposition 64 in November 2016. However, recreational sales didn’t begin until January 2018.
Today, adults aged 21+ can purchase, consume, and possess up to an ounce of weed. You can do this either at home or in a specific establishment licensed for weed consumption. You are also allowed to possess up to eight grams of concentrate and cultivate a maximum of six plants in your home.
Medical marijuana became legal thanks to Amendment 20 in 2000. However, residents of Colorado had to wait until the enactment of Amendment 64 in November 2012 before the herb became legal recreationally.
You are only allowed to purchase a maximum of one ounce per transaction and possess a maximum of an ounce. Most stores play it safe and won’t sell to you again that day, even if you come back later. Recreational marijuana laws changed in October 2016. You could possess a maximum of eight grams of concentrate or 800 mg of edibles from then on. Finally, you can grow up to six marijuana plants, but only three can be mature.
The Constitution State had an MMJ program for almost a decade before permitting adult-use marijuana. In June 2011, Governor Malloy signed legislation decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of weed. In June 2012, he signed a medical marijuana law in Connecticut.
An attempt to push through recreational marijuana in April 2018 stalled. However, this effort was renewed three years later, with Governor Ned Lamont vowing that the state would have recreational sales by 2022. In June 2021, he signed Senate Bill 1201, legalizing adult-use marijuana in Connecticut.
Adults in the state can have a maximum of 1.5 ounces on their person and no more than 5 ounces stored in their homes or locked in glove boxes or car trunks. However, retail sales won’t begin until early 2023, and it remains illegal to cultivate marijuana at home until July 2023.
The state of Illinois permitted an MMJ program in 2013. The number of qualifying conditions grew, and there are currently more than 30.
Illinois is one of the most recent cases of a state legalizing recreational cannabis. Its governor is a Democrat, J. B. Pritzker. He is pro-marijuana and outlined his intention to make the herb legal in the state. The state passed the new bill in June 2019, and from January 2020, residents aged over 21 can legally buy cannabis for recreational use.
Weed was decriminalized in 1976 and became legal for medicinal use in 1999. In 2016, Maine voted ‘Yes’ to Question 1, which resulted in the statewide legalization of recreational marijuana. It was a close-run thing as the measure passed by less than one percentage point!
Residents of Maine had to wait to celebrate, however. The state’s governor vetoed a bill to tax and regulate recreational marijuana sales in November 2017. His veto was finally overturned in May 2018, and the bill became law.
The new law allows Maine residents aged 21+ to possess 2.5 ounces of marijuana and grow up to six flowering plants and 12 immature plants. Also, Maine employers are no longer permitted to test job applicants for cannabis.
After marijuana was decriminalized in 2008, the state of Massachusetts swiftly moved to have medical cannabis made available. This was made possible in 2012 when Question 3 passed with 60% of the vote.
Fast forward to 2016, and the state legalized recreational weed after Question 4 passed with 54% of the vote.
The state made provisions for home cultivation in December 2016. Massachusetts adult residents are now allowed to possess one ounce and grow up to six plants.
If the residence has more than one adult, it is possible to grow 12 plants as long as they remain obscured from public view. The sale of recreational weed began in July 2018.
Medical marijuana was legalized in 2008 after 63% of voters said ‘Yes’ to Prop 1. Recreational use was not decriminalized until 2018. This fact made it mildly surprising that in November 2018, almost 56% of voters voted to legalize weed for recreational use via Proposal 1.
Michigan became the tenth state to allow recreational cannabis and the first in the Midwest. According to the new law, residents can grow up to 12 plants in their homes and keep a maximum of 10 ounces in their residences. They must keep amounts over 2.5 ounces in locked containers. Adult-use sales started in December 2019.
Montana has one of the longest-running MMJ programs in the United States. Over 60% of voters approved Measure I-148 in 2004. Therefore, it was a surprise that it took so long for Montana to take the next step. That said, the state legislature introduced several restrictions on the MMJ program in 2011.
The state has moved towards a more cannabis-friendly attitude in recent years. The change in stance culminated in the legalization of adult-use cannabis via I-90 and CI-118 in November 2020. The new law permits adults aged 21+ to possess up to an ounce of weed without an MMJ card.
Also, Montana residents can grow up to four mature plants and four seedlings in a private residence. The law came into effect at the beginning of 2021, and recreational sales started in January 2022.
Nevada was one of the first states to legalize medical marijuana in 2000. It was no surprise when Question 2, an initiative to legalize recreational cannabis, passed with 54% of the vote in November 2016. The initiative became law in January 2017.
Residents and tourists can purchase up to an ounce of weed as long as they are aged 21+. You can possess one-eighth of an ounce of concentrate. Also, you can ‘gift’ up to an ounce of flower or an eighth of concentrate to an adult friend.
You can grow up to six plants per household, 12 plants if there is more than one adult. However, you must either own the property or have received permission from the landlord to grow. Finally, you must live at least 25 miles from the nearest dispensary.
Governor Jon Corzine signed the Compassionate Use Marijuana Act into law on January 18, 2010, his final day in office. The law expanded its list of qualifying conditions over the years. However, attempts to fully legalize cannabis in New Jersey failed, despite the best efforts of campaigners.
This all changed in November 2020. Almost 67% of voters said ‘yes’ to NJ Question 1, which legalized adult-use cannabis. Recreational sales began in New Jersey in 2022.
An MMJ program of sorts has existed in New Mexico since 1978. However, the Controlled Substances Therapeutic Research Act was incredibly restrictive, and only 250 cancer patients received weed or THC as part of the program across eight years.
The state finally had a widescale medical marijuana program upon the signing of Senate Bill 523 into law in 2007. However, New Mexico residents had to wait 14 years for the state to make the final step towards full legalization. This happened via House Bill 2, otherwise known as the Cannabis Regulation Act, in April 2021.
Adults in NM have been legally allowed to possess up to two ounces of cannabis since June 29, 2021. It is also legal to grow up to 12 plants, six mature and six immature, in a private residence. Retail sales begin in April 2022, with the 12% excise tax increasing by 1% annually from 2025 until it reaches 18% in 2030.
In what is huge news for the east coast, New York legalized recreational cannabis in March 2021. Governor Cuomo signed the legislation into law, thus positioning the state as a major legal marijuana market.
New Yorkers aged 21+ can now possess up to three ounces of cannabis or 24 grams of concentrate.
New Yorkers aged 21+ can now possess up to three ounces of cannabis or 24 grams of concentrate. They can even smoke marijuana in areas where tobacco cigarette smoking is also allowed.
Eventually, recreational users will be permitted to grow six plants at home. However, this isn’t possible right now. Also, at least 40% of New York’s municipalities have voted to ban recreational cannabis sales, with more likely to follow.
In 2014, Measure 91, which legalized recreational cultivation and use of marijuana, was approved. In 2015, Governor Kate Brown signed an emergency bill. It declared that recreational cannabis was legally available for sale from October 2015.
By January 2017, dispensaries were only allowed to sell recreational marijuana with an Oregon Liquor Control Commission license.
In Oregon, you can possess a maximum of one ounce of marijuana. If you are a state resident, you can possess up to eight ounces in your home. Also, you can grow up to four plants. However, even residents cannot possess more than an ounce in public.
In May 2004, Senate Bill 76 passed and legalized medical marijuana. In January 2018, HB 511 passed, which made recreational marijuana legal. It was a landmark moment because Vermont became the first state legislature to legalize recreational cannabis.
Recreational sales began in October 2022. Overall, Vermont’s adult residents are now allowed possession of an ounce of cannabis. Alas, they can only cultivate two plants.
Recreational marijuana use became legal in Virginia in July 2021. Originally, the law wasn’t supposed to come into force until July 2024. However, Governor Northam proposed moving the date forward, and the state Senate narrowly passed the bill.
Now, adults aged 21+ can possess up to an ounce of cannabis. They can also cultivate up to four plants at home. However, commercial sales are unlikely to begin before 2023.
Washington was already one of the first states to legalize medicinal marijuana in 1998. Therefore, it wasn’t a shock when it was the first to legalize recreational cannabis on December 6, 2012. It beat Colorado to the punch by four days!
According to Initiative 502, adults in Washington state are allowed to possess:
- Up to an ounce of usable marijuana
- Seven grams of concentrate
- 72 ounces of liquid marijuana-infused product
- 16 ounces of solid marijuana-infused product
In the District of Columbia, cannabis lovers must fight a major battle. For example, medical marijuana was approved through Initiative 59 in 1998. However, it was not brought into law until 2009 due to various Congressional blockages.
In 2014, D.C. voted to legalize recreational marijuana through Initiative 71. There were only 30 days of Congressional review on this occasion before the law came into effect in February 2015.
Adults aged 21+ can possess up to two ounces of marijuana, but the law isn’t as simple as it is in other states.
For example, possession is illegal on federal land, which comprises almost 30% of D.C.’s area.
Also, you don’t buy it in the ‘traditional’ manner. Instead, you must purchase something else and receive a ‘free’ marijuana product that is ‘donated’ or ‘gifted’ by the seller. Authorities are cracking down on this practice as we speak.
What’s Next for Recreational Marijuana?
It is unlikely that marijuana will become federally legal any time soon. As a result, it is necessary to chip away at the existing laws, state by state. It certainly seems that the public is finished with the War on Drugs. Residents of Oregon voted to decriminalize all drugs in November 2020.
Some observers feel as if New Jersey was the tipping point. It became the first state on the east coast to permit adult-use marijuana. Yes, Vermont and D.C. technically allow it, but neither has a system to facilitate sales. New York has quickly followed suit, as expected. With a growing number of states allowing recreational cannabis, the current administration will soon have a decision to make regarding the substance’s legality.