RED STATES, BLUE STATES, PURPLE STATES... in 2019, one thing more and more of us can agree on is the need for more green states. Support for marijuana legalization this year hit an all-time high (puns!) with nearly two-thirds of Americans favoring broad recreational legalization. States are moving pot laws forward -- some of them slow, some of them fast.
Eight years ago, medical marijuana was legal in only 17 states and the District of Columbia; recreational marijuana was legal in zero states and zero Districts of Columbia. Today, medical marijuana programs are on the books in 33 states, and the 10 best states allow some degree of recreational use. For the first few years the West Coast set the pace, but then New England began making serious moves, too -- even some red states, once GOP politicians began seeing the tax windfall enjoyed by trailblazers (more puns!) like Colorado and Washington, are suddenly of the opinion that marijuana is not quite so bad.
Welcome to the State of the Weed Union 2019, your one-stop shop for everything you need to know about which states are stacking hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue by legalizing and/or not imprisoning non-violent drug users, and which states are… not. As voters and state legislatures adapt, we’ll update this story and the map accordingly.
Before we light up here, a quick primer on some terminology -- don’t worry, this isn’t for a test, unless you count the possibility that you misjudge your state’s weed laws and do in fact end up in prison. In that sense yes it is for a test.
Ten states and DC have, to varying degrees, seen the light in allowing residents to get lit. But contrary to what at least one of you currently reading this believes, “legal” recreational weed does not mean, like, fully and unconditionally legalized blazing in the streets in front of God and everyone. Usually it means if you are over the age of 21, it’s fine to keep modest amounts on your person or in your home, maybe grow a couple of plants, and occasionally smoke in public. You might recognize such rules from your dealings with a similar legal recreational substance, “alcohol.”
Thirty-three states have medical marijuana programs, but not all are currently operational and some only cover a limited range of medical conditions. Many states without medical legislation still allow for limited use of CBD -- aka Cannabidiol, the cannabis compound that has a huge variety of medical properties but is not psychoactive (i.e. it doesn’t get you high, unlike its better-known counterpart THC). CBD is widely used to help manage epilepsy and ease symptoms of conditions such as anxiety, cancer, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, and nausea.
A lot of breadth and nuance can be contained in the term “decriminalized”, but basically it means no jail time. The state hasn’t fully legalized recreational marijuana, but it has made possession of small amounts (usually 1 ounce or less) punishable by, at worst, a citation and a fine, not criminal charges and prison. Some states still classify it as a misdemeanor, but removing the threat of incarceration is an important step, since for years this country has been throwing people in prison for carrying as little as a single joint -- with black Americans four times more likely to be arrested as white ones, despite equal rates of marijuana usage. Some decriminalized states also have medical marijuana programs.