Puff, Puff, Passed: The Progress Toward Legal Weed In All 50 States
Getting deep into the weeds on this one.
RED STATES, BLUE STATES, PURPLE STATES... in 2021, one thing most of us can agree on is the need for more green states. Support for weed legalization is at an all-time high (puns!) with 91% of Americans in favor. States are moving cannabis laws forward—some of them slow, some of them fast—with six states having seen the light of legalization already this year.
Today, medical cannabis programs are on the books in 36 states, and 16 states allow some degree of recreational use. For the first few years the West Coast set the pace, then New England began making 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 cannabis is not quite so bad.
Welcome to the State of the Weed Union 2021: 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.
But first, a quick primer on terminology. Don’t worry, this isn’t for a test, unless you count the possibility that you misjudge your state’s laws and do in fact end up in prison. In that sense, yes it is for a test.
Sixteen states plus DC allow residents to legally light up to varying degrees. Note that “legal” recreational weed does not mean, like, fully and unconditionally blazing in the streets in front of God and your mother. 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-six states now have medical 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). CBD is widely used to help manage epilepsy and ease symptoms of conditions such as anxiety, cancer, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, and nausea.
There’s a lot of breadth and nuance here, but basically it means no jail time. The state hasn’t legalized recreational weed, but it has made possession of small amounts (usually one ounce or less) punishable by, at worst, a citation and a fine. 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 cannabis usage. Some decriminalized states also have medical programs.
Alabama does in fact have pending legislation to legalize and regulate medicinal cannabis. 75% of Alabama voters support it, but don’t get too excited—it’s gotten past the Senate three times and stalls at the House. Anything would be better than what exists now: Literally one single joint in Alabama is punishable by up to a year in prison. A lot of people are arrested and charged with possession these days, but few are actually convicted—those who are convicted, though, are overwhelmingly black men. A medical program would be an excellent way for Alabama to begin making reparations for Jeff Sessions (born: Selma; died: TBD), but don’t hold your breath.
Alaska: RecreationalBig ol’ Alaska was the fourth state to legalize recreational weed for adults 21+, right alongside Oregon (and also DC) back in 2014. The legislation allows for possession of one ounce or less—any more than that is a misdemeanor, four ounces or more is a felony. No growing more than three mature plants. No smoking in public. In 2019, Alaska became the first state to legalize smoking on-site at dispensaries, so that’s neat.
Arizona: RecreationalAs of January 22, 2021, you’re free to purchase and possess one ounce of bud in Arizona. The caveats are no smoking in public, and you’ve gotta be over 21 to buy. Adults may cultivate up to six plants at home for non-commercial purposes, and starting in July, those previously convicted of possession for up to two and a half ounces might be able to have their criminal record expunged. The state already had a robust medical-cannabis economy serving some 300,000 patients who can legally possess up to 2.5 ounces of any type (flower, edible, or concentrate) and, if they’re more than 25 miles from a dispensary, can grow up to twelve plants at a time.
Arkansas: MedicinalArkansas has a decent medical program serving nearly 74,000 patients. But otherwise, it remains a felony if you’re caught carrying over four ounces, punishable by up to six years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. Possession of less than four ounces is a misdemeanor, carrying up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500. Cultivation of the plant is punishable as either simple possession or as possession with intent to deliver, depending on how much is there. Too bad—there are probably a lot of eager farmers in the Natural State.
California: RecreationalIt’s more normal to bring edibles to a dinner party in California than a bottle of wine, but unless you're a dispensary, it’s a misdemeanor to sell any amount of recreational weed (no penalties for gifting though! So long as it’s under 28.5 grams). It’s legal for adults 21+ to possess up to one ounce and to grow as many as six plants. As for California’s medical program, there are still benefits to registering: A medical card allows you to possess as much as your physician recommends and grow as many plants as it takes to meet your needs. You’re exempt from paying state sales and use taxes. And also the card looks cool.
Colorado: RecreationalColorado: Allowing adults 21+ to have an ounce of weed on them since 2012. It’s also legal to transfer it (i.e. share it around with friends for no financial compensation), which is not necessarily the case in other legalized states. And beginning this year recreational delivery is also legal, but must be voted on by municipality. So far Aurora is the only town to approve delivery, but Denver is slated for a vote later this year. For a place nicknamed The Mile High City, it should be nothing but net.
Connecticut: Medicinal and DecriminalizedC’mon Connecticut, you’re sooo close! Votes get halfway, but there are disagreements on how cannabis tax revenue should be spent. If lawmakers fail to pass a legalization bill, the governor expects voters to decide on the issue via referendum. The state has already taken the crucial step of decriminalizing cannabis for very small amounts. Possession of half an ounce or less is punishable by a fine of $150 (first offense) or $500 (subsequent offenses) but no jail time. Growing or distributing herb remains a felony. Meanwhile, the state’s medical dispensaries currently serve around 37,000 patients.
Delaware: Medicinal and DecriminalizedLegal weed is proving to be kind of a journey for Delaware: A bill to legalize possession for up to one ounce is currently heading to the House. So far the state has decriminalized possession of one ounce or less—meaning no jail time, just a fine of $100. The state has medical cannabis legislation allowing for possession of up to six ounces (no home-growing though) and patients must register with a state-licensed, not-for-profit compassion center. The number of registered patients has ballooned during the last few years.
Florida: MedicinalWeird™ is already Florida’s well-established brand, but it is still not a place where you can legally, ya know, get weird. Recreational possession of 20 grams or less (0.7 ounces; don’t act like you knew) is a misdemeanor that can land you in prison for a year, but decriminalization is coming in small increments depending on where you are. In Orlando, for example, police officers can choose to give out citations with a $100 fine for less than 20 grams instead of making an arrest. More than 20 grams is a felony: five years, possibly more. The state’s medical program currently serves more than 320,000 patients with any of a dozen or so qualifying conditions. No home-growing, though.
Georgia: IllegalSo, this is an odd one. Georgia does technically have medical cannabis legislation on the books, but we’re making a judgement call to say it’s still illegal because it’s kind of worthless: Patients can possess CBD oils containing no more than 5% THC. It’s still illegal to buy, sell, grow, or import cannabis from another state, and no home-growing. Possession of one ounce or less is a misdemeanor; anything more than that is a felony. First-time offenders can usually opt for probation rather than jail time, so at least that’s something.
Hawaii: Medicinal and DecriminalizedA bill to fully legalize weed in Hawaii is heading to the Senate. And in January 2020, the Aloha State decriminalized possession of under three grams; instead of receiving 30 days in jail, a fine of up to $1,000, and potentially a criminal record, folks will face just a $130 fine. Possession won’t get you a felony charge unless you’re caught with a pound of it (though it remains a felony to sell or deliver more than one ounce). And first-time offenders who successfully make it through probation get a clean slate: The state will expunge their record. Hawaii has an operational medical program serving more than 26,000 patients, who can grow up to seven plants (mature or otherwise).
Idaho: IllegalWeed is very, very illegal here. In fact, Idaho is the last remaining state not to have any sort of legislation that even acknowledges the existence of medical weed. Possession of three ounces or less is a misdemeanor; more than three ounces is a felony—whether you’re using it recreationally or not. There’s also a proposed constitutional amendment that would prevent the legalization of weed and other drugs without the approval of two-thirds of the Idaho Legislature. So.
Illinois: RecreationalOn January 1, 2020, Illinois became the 11th state to legalize adult use of recreational weed, and in their first year cleared $1 billion in sales. That’s a lot! Residents 21+ can freely purchase flower in amounts up to one ounce, but it’s illegal to consume in public. Home-growing is also illegal unless you’re an enrolled medical patient, in which case you can have yourself five plants. Lawmakers are considering plans to create 150 new retail stores, allow for cannabis tours, and make it a crime to get a pet sick from pot. Which, yes please do.
Indiana is the cop that keeps rolling up on its neighbors (Illinois and Michigan) whenever they have a party. Getting caught with any amount of weed is a misdemeanor (180 days in jail; $1,000 fine) and more than 30 grams may result in up to a year in jail and/or a fine of up to $5,000. For those with prior offenses, possession—no matter the amount—is a felony. (BOO.)Maybe someday the state legislature will stop being such nerds; they currently allow the possession and sale of CBD products and in some cases, small amounts are being decriminalized at the county level. But several bills to allow for decriminalization and legalization all died yet again in 2021.
Most Iowans support a robust medical program, and over half support recreational legalization. But as it stands, possessing any amount of bud is a misdemeanor (with a possible six months' jail time for even first-time offenders); growing or selling any amount is a felony. The state’s medical program is so strict, it hardly counts: Even licensed distributors are prohibited from doling out CBD products containing more than 4.5 grams of THC to a patient in a 90-day period.
But it’s also true that states invariably feel the pressure when a neighbor legalizes, since precious tax revenue is lost when residents simply drive a few miles across the border to procure what they can’t get at home. Since Illinois stepped up to the plate in 2020, Iowa’s timeline to legalization might be that much shorter.
Kansas: IllegalYou’ll have to make like Dorothy and hop on a tornado bound for Oz if you want to get high in Kansas, but that could change soon: The Kansas Equal Access Act, introduced in early 2021, would allow qualified and registered patients to possess and grow medical weed. (The bill would also protect users from discrimination when applying for housing, health insurance, employment, social welfare programs, and more.) In the meantime, possession of any amount is a misdemeanor; possession of more than 450 grams (a bit over 16 ounces) with intent to distribute is a felony.
Kentucky: IllegalIn late 2020, a bill that would allow medical cannabis in Kentucky passed the House—only to be ignored by the Senate, once again delaying the state’s progress towards legalization. Aside from some state-sponsored hemp research and the use of some CBD products, weed remains broadly illegal here. Possession of eight ounces or less is a misdemeanor, though it’s worth mentioning the charge carries a punishment of only 45 days in jail and up to a $250 fine, which is... less than it is in some other states.
Louisiana: MedicinalLouisiana’s medical program became active in 2019; in 2020, the state expanded the list of qualified conditions and made it legal for physicians to recommend cannabis to any patient they believe will benefit from that good good. But in general, the program remains extraordinarily restrictive, with only a handful of licensed dispensaries in the state. Patients aren’t allowed to grow plants at home and are only permitted to buy a 30-day supply in non-smokable form. On the plus side (?) first-time offenders in Louisiana charged with possession of 14 grams (a hair under half an ounce) or less only face 15 days’ jail time and a $300 fine. And hey, no open container laws!
If you are of legal drinking age, you are also of legal possessing-2.5-ounces-or-less-of-recreational-cannabis age in Maine. Although the pandemic delayed any spectacular grand openings, retail sales began in late 2020; public consumption is still illegal, though, so don’t expect to toke and eat lobster rolls on the beach simultaneously. (But we can definitely dream. And, you know, sneak.) The cap for medical usage is 2.5 ounces, with home-growing limited to six mature plants, and dispensaries serving more than 45,000 registered patients.
Maryland: Medicinal and Decriminalized
Most residents of Maryland support legal weed—and their dreams are thiiiiiis close to becoming a reality. In early 2021, the state legislature introduced a bill that would legalize recreational use and turn Maryland into MaryJaneland. (It was worth a try.) The proposed law would allow folks 21+ to possess up to two ounces, and 63% of revenue generated from the bill would be reinvested into community initiatives. For now, Maryland has decriminalized recreational possession for amounts less than 10 grams. Anything more is still a misdemeanor, but you’ll need to be caught packing a full 50 pounds (not a typo) to be charged with a felony. The medical legislation doesn’t allow home-growing (or, oddly, edibles), but patients are allowed to possess up to a 30-day supply.
The state’s first retail shops opened in late 2018; as of 2020, there were nearly 80 dispensaries with more on the way. Those of you in Massachusetts age 21+ can legally possess one ounce of bud and keep up to 10 ounces at home. Home-growers can have up to six plants. The medical program allows for a maximum of 35 dispensaries, which currently serve nearly 70,000 registered patients. During the pandemic, the state’s Cannabis Control Commission also created a new license allowing third-party services to deliver weed directly to people at home, and that’s how we know God is real.
Michigan: RecreationalIn 2018, Michigan became the 10th state to legalize recreational grass. Individuals can possess up to 2.5 ounces (or 10 ounces at home) and cultivate up to 12 plants. Retail shops are open for business (though not statewide—some counties have opted out of adult-use sales). Still, a few little details: Possession of more than five ounces is a misdemeanor on the first offense. “Sale without remuneration,” meaning sharing your stash, comes with a $500 fine for amounts between 2.5 and five ounces. And any sale that’s actually a sale is a felony (although if you love your local plug too much to let go, we honestly feel that).
Minnesota: Medicinal and DecriminalizedThere is cool stuff to do in Minnesota, but legally lighting up is not yet among them unless you have a medical license. The state’s medicinal program is relatively modest—only a 30-day supply at a time, no smoking, no home-growing. Recreational possession of an amount equal to or less than 1.5 ounces is technically a misdemeanor, but carries no jail time (just a $200 fine); first-time offenders can usually have the offense expunged from their record. But as of March 2021, it seems that recreational legalization will happen sooner rather than later: A new bill allowing Minnesotans 21+ to possess up to 1.5 ounces of herb is moving quickly through the state House.
Mississippi: Medicinal and Decriminalized
In November 2020, Mississippi legalized medical marijuana (!!!). Once the Department of Health begins rolling out identification cards and licenses in August 2021, patients with qualifying conditions will be allowed to possess up to 2.5 ounces of weed at once. The state has long had laws to decriminalize possession in small amounts; currently, possession of 30 grams or less for first-time offenders won’t get you any jail time, just a $250 fine.
Missouri: Medicinal and DecriminalizedIn a state where you can purchase an entire meal made out of donuts, one might say the state’s reluctance to legalize recreational weed is hurting small businesses. Missouri did legalize medicinal weed in 2018, after having already permitted low-THC CBD for certain conditions, and—bonus!—state-sponsored hemp research. And as the number of states with recreational use (and fat wallets) continues to grow, so do the calls for legalization in Missouri—but as it stands, 2021 doesn’t look to be the year. Here’s to 2022! For now, there’s a hefty fine, but no jail time, for first-time offenders carrying up to 10 grams (about one-third of an ounce).
Montana: RecreationalHave you been to Montana? It is beautiful—and it just got a helluva lot better. As of January 1, 2021, it’s legal for Montanans aged 21+ to possess and grow up to one ounce of flower or eight grams of concentrate. Recreational sales are expected to begin around October. (Don’t get too carried away, though—possession of more than one ounce is still considered a felony punishable by up to five years in jail and a fine of up to $5,000.) The bill also called for the resentencing or expungement of those currently convicted for cannabis-related offenses. For registered medical users, of which Montana has more than 31,000, it’s business as usual: Feel free to cultivate up to four mature plants plus four seedlings at home.
… but just barely. First-time offenders caught with one ounce or less face a $300 fine and no jail time, but second and third offenses for the same amount can carry sentences of five and seven days, respectively (plus $500 fines). After the state Supreme Court stripped a medical weed constitutional amendment from the 2020 ballot at the last minute, advocates are gearing up to put medical back on the ballot in 2022, while also pushing for full legalization in the state legislature.
Nevada sure took its time loosening up its weed laws, but now we’re in business: Adults 21+ are clear to carry one ounce of recreational weed. In classic Nevada fashion, many dispensaries around Vegas are over-the-top and expensive; this state loves to tax vice (and Californians) so those in search of discounts might want to bring a medical card (as out-of-state cards are accepted in the Silver State). The scene isn’t quite as “anything-goes” as you might expect; smoking in public and/or getting caught with more than one ounce will land you a misdemeanor, which means a $600 fine but no jail time.