For decades, the laws surrounding marijuana legalization moved at a glacial pace. Weed is federally illegal in America since the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937. There is little evidence that anything will change on that score. It’s a sad situation, but at least individual states have stepped up to the plate.
Some have acted faster than others. California was the first to legalize cannabis for medical consumption way back in 1996. Alas, we had to wait 14 years before any states took the bold step of legalizing it for recreational purposes. That honor went to Washington state, thanks to the Washington Initiative 502 on December 6, 2012.
Several other states have followed suit. At the time of writing, 11 states plus D.C. allow you to use weed recreationally. Let’s look at the laws in each of these states below.
Which States Have Recreational Marijuana?
1 – Alaska
Alaska originally decriminalized weed in 1975 but reversed this decision 15 years later. The state proceeded to shift position twice during the early 21st century. Alaska is an unusual state concerning marijuana legalization. Usually, states dip their toe in the water and ensure weed is legal medicinally first.
In Alaska’s case, though, Measure 2 was successful in 2014 and ensured that cannabis was legal recreationally. The measure became law on February 24 the following year. Now, all Alaskan residents are allowed to possess up to an ounce of marijuana if they are aged 21+. They are also entitled to grow six plants per person or a maximum of 12 in a two-person household. A maximum of three mature flowering plants is allowed at one time.
Interestingly, Alaskan law also enables adults to give away up to six plants or an ounce of marijuana to another adult. In March 2019, Governor Meyer signed a new bill into law. It allows marijuana consumers to use their purchase on the site of a licensed weed business. Cannabis companies began applying for these licenses in April 2019.
2 – California
The Golden State has always been associated with a liberal attitude towards the herb. In 1975, Senate Bill 95 (also known as the Moscone Act) decriminalized weed possession. Possession of an ounce or less became a misdemeanor. It was no surprise that California was the first state in the modern era to legalize cannabis for medical use in 1996 through Proposition 215.
It attempted to become the first state to legalize weed for recreational use in November 2010. However, Proposition 19 was defeated by 7%. The main concerns came from police in the state. They were worried about increased criminal activity if legalization occurred.
However, Colorado and Washington did not experience a crimewave after their respective decisions to legalize marijuana. As a result, California followed with Proposition 64 in 2016. Adults can now possess up to an ounce and grow six live plants. However, you can cultivate more with a commercial license.
January 2018 was the beginning of full legalization in California. Adults aged 21+ can now buy or possess up to an ounce of the herb, and eight grams of cannabis concentrate. You can also grow up to six plants at home, while you can keep what you harvest but store it in a locked container. A few countries, such as Calaveras County, banned marijuana cultivation.
3 – Colorado
Colorado first prohibited marijuana in 1917. Within a couple of years, the entire nation banned alcohol. Therefore, it was a grim time for anyone interested in abiding by the law! The state decriminalized the herb in 1975. In 2000, Colorado voters approved Amendment 20; medical marijuana was legal.
Colorado was agonizingly close to becoming the first state to legalize marijuana recreationally but was beaten by four days. On December 10, 2012, Amendment 64 legalized weed. It allowed adults aged 21+ to possess up to an ounce of the herb. You are also allowed to grow a maximum of six plants at home, with three flowering at once. From January 2018, all residences were restricted to 12 plants barring exceptional circumstances.
4 – Illinois
Illinois banned the recreational use of marijuana in 1933. The state had an opportunity to beat California and become the first medical cannabis state. Illinois passed the Cannabis Control Act in 1978. Had Human Services and the State Police completed the required action, the state would have had medical marijuana.
In August 2013, Governor Patrick Quinn signed the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act. It legalized MMJ in particular circumstances. Today, you can get a card if you have one of 30 qualifying conditions. At the time of writing, the Illinois MMJ program has approximately 96,000 patients.
State lawmakers proposed legalizing recreational cannabis in March 2017. The growth of the medical market sped up the process. The Illinois General Assembly passed the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act to legalize recreational weed in May 2019. The state became the 11th to make the step (plus D.C.), and it began on January 1, 2020. Governor Pritzker also granted 11,000 pardons for low-level cannabis convictions.
All marijuana sold in Illinois is grown in the state. The maximum amount that an adult can possess is 30 grams in flower form. The limit for concentrates is 5 grams, and the max for edibles is 500mg of THC. At the time of writing, only MMJ patients are allowed to cultivate weed at home.
5 – Maine
The state of Maine decriminalized marijuana in 1976. It was among the first states to legalize pot medicinally through Question 2 in 1999. A whopping 62% of the population voted ‘Yes.’ In 2009, a piece of legislation known as LD 250 downgraded the possession of 2.5 ounces or less to a civil infraction.
It was only a matter of time before Maine went the whole way. On November 8, 2016, Question 1 (also known as the Marijuana Legalization Act) legalized weed recreationally by a margin of just 0.5%! After protests and delays, it seemed retail sales would commence in February 2018.
However, then-Governor LePage continued to fight against it. Finally, with a new Governor in tow, the state is ready for regulated sales in 2020. In Maine, it is legal to carry up to 2.5 ounces of weed. You can grow up to six flowering plants, 12 immature plants, and limitless seedlings.
6 – Massachusetts
Although Massachusetts was late to the party, it has made up for the lost time in the last decade. The state only decriminalized marijuana in 2008. By November 2012, 63% of voters approved Question 3, and cannabis became legal for medicinal use.
Almost four years later to the day, on November 8, 2016, voters passed a ballot initiative known as Question 4. It legalized recreational marijuana in Massachusetts. However, specific towns and cities in the state can ban recreational sellers. Governor Charles Baker signed legislation that extended the start date for sales to July 2018.
You are allowed to carry one ounce, and cultivate up to an ounce outdoors or up to 10 ounces indoors. In a private residence, keep any amount over one ounce in a locked room or container. Adults aged 21+ can also give away up to an ounce of marijuana or possess five grams of concentrate. Today, you can grow a maximum of 12 plants in a residence where two adults live. Otherwise, a single adult can cultivate no more than six plants.
7 – Michigan
Michigan has the honor of being the only midwestern state to legalize recreational cannabis. Before full legalization, possession of any amount carried a potential prison sentence of up to a year. Possession in a public park had a maximum jail term of two years.
Ann Arbor gained fame for implementing the most lenient laws on weed in the 1970s. The city effectively decriminalized the herb in 1974 by reducing possession of it to a civil infraction. The Michigan Compassionate Care Initiative (Proposal 1) allowed medical marijuana for patients with specific qualifying conditions. 63% of voters said ‘yes’ in November 2008.
Voters returned to the ballot in November 2018, this time to vote ‘yes’ to a different Proposal 1. 56% of voters were in favor of recreational legalization. It permits adults in Michigan to possess up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis. It also allows residents to grow up to 12 plants at home. The first dispensaries opened in December 2019.
8 – Nevada
Nevada legalized pot medicinally way back in 1998 when voters approved Question 9. It was approved again in 2000. This was because state law dictated that the initiative needed approval in consecutive elections since it was a constitutional amendment. Proponents of the herb made further attempts to legalize it recreationally in 2002 and 2006, but both failed.
Finally, Question 2 was put before voters in 2016 to legalize marijuana recreationally. The initiative passed on November 8 by 8%. Dispensaries in the state began selling weed recreationally on July 1, 2017. You are allowed to possess up to an ounce and one-eighth of an ounce of concentrates. Nevada law also permits an adult to give another adult an ounce of marijuana flower for free.
You are only permitted to grow at home if you live more than 25 miles from the nearest dispensary. In this case, the maximum is six plants per person or 12 plants per household with at least two adults.
9 – Oregon
Oregon was another state that was always likely to legalize pot. During the early part of this century, the ratio of residents using weed outpaced the general population by over 40%. Ballot Measure 67 legalized marijuana medicinally for patients with certain medical conditions in 1998.
In 2014, Measure 91, which legalized marijuana recreationally, was approved. In 2015, Governor Kate Brown signed an emergency bill. It declared weed sales legal from dispensaries beginning in October of that year. You are allowed to possess up to an ounce of usable marijuana in public if you are aged 21+. Other limitations include ten cannabis seeds, 72 ounces of cannabinoid products in liquid form, and an ounce of cannabinoid extracts.
In a private residence, you can possess up to eight ounces of usable marijuana. The same limits regarding concentrates and liquids in public apply. You can also grow four marijuana plants at one time.
10 – Vermont
Vermont first legalized cannabis in May 2004. Legislators passed Senate Bill 76 without the signature of Governor James Douglas. The state decriminalized herb in June 2013. Next, Vermont began looking into the possibility of recreational use from 2014 onward. Governor Peter Shumlin announced his support for a ‘tax and regulate’ system for the herb.
In January 2018, legislators passed House Bill 511. HB 511 made it legal to buy weed recreationally and possess up to an ounce. Adult residents are also allowed to grow two mature plants and four immature ones. All of the above is theoretical, however! Sales remain illegal at the beginning of 2020. At present, the recreational law contains a provision that enables adults to gift small amounts of weed to one another.
At the time of writing, there is no retail marijuana system in place in Vermont. A quirk in the law means marijuana sellers can earn without facing prosecution. For example, you can sell a different item and add cannabis as a ‘gift’. However, the state is seeking to crack down on those who exploit this loophole.
11 – Washington State
The state of Washington became a history maker when it became the first to legalize marijuana for recreational use. It was also one of the first to legalize it for medicinal use. As early as 1979, the Washington Court of Appeals recognized medical use as a defense for individuals charged with possession. The state filled Initiative 692 in 1998. It allowed physicians to recommend medical marijuana to patients with certain conditions.
Public support for full legalization grew, and in 2010, the state’s House of Representatives considered a pair of cannabis bills. On December 6, 2012, Washington passed Initiative 502. It became the first American state to legalize weed for recreational use. Adult residents are allowed to carry an ounce, but it is illegal to grow plants at home unless for medical use.
12 – District of Columbia
The state voted for Initiative 59 to allow medical marijuana in D.C. back in 1998. However, Congress prevented it from taking effect until 2009. In 2014, Mayor Vincent Gray signed a bill that decriminalized possession of an ounce or less.
Within a few months, Initiative 71 was approved for the ballot. It asked voters if they wanted legal recreational weed in D.C. On November 4, 2014, the answer was an overwhelming ‘YES’ as almost 65% voted in favor. Also, residents are allowed to carry up to two ounces and grow up to six plants. The state bans the commercial sale of pot. D.C. also follows the Vermont model of ‘gifting’ cannabis.
Who’s Next to Legalize Recreational Cannabis?
This is an extremely tough question to answer because there are a lot of likely candidates. The Make It Legal Florida committee believes that 65% of residents want expanded access to weed for adults. However, by the beginning of 2020, the group had only received 28% of the signatures required by February 1.
New Jersey is perhaps the best bet. According to the Associated Press, the state will vote on the issue in November 2020. Over in New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo is keen to push through recreational legislation but continues to face opposition.
We believe it is unlikely that we will have to wait long for another state to legalize marijuana recreationally. The tide is turning, and one day soon, it will turn into an unstoppable flood.