It feels almost impossible to read the news these days and not see a story about a state legalizing weed. At the end of March in 2021, New York State joined the list of states with legal weed, and New Mexico is set to legalize weed right behind them, with a bill for full legalization being sent to the governor’s desk. The full impact of these laws will not be immediate — but major changes are on the way.
Because the legalization of recreational marijuana is happening on a state-by-state basis, the question of where is weed legal may be one that some have trouble answering. But luckily, we’ve made a marijuana map that shows states with legal weed. Before we get into the nitty-gritty of the fast-track to legalization happening all over the country, let’s get into the basics of legal weed.
Despite the protestations of policy experts, medical professionals, and dedicated activists around the country, the federal government continues to classify marijuana as a schedule 1 narcotic. The DEA defines that particular class of substances as “drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse,” a phrase that quite objectively does not describe marijuana. But despite the federal government’s intransigence, it appears that more and more Americans aren’t taking Reefer Madness as gospel.
And the dominoes are falling. In late February, New Jersey legislators passed the laws that will govern the legal sale of marijuana for adult use in the Garden State. The legislation came after voters overwhelmingly passed a referendum last November, as did their peers in four other states.
And while you can’t yet buy legal weed in New Jersey, it is now officially decriminalized, and the rules that the legal cannabis industry will have to follow in the Garden State are now in place. In New York, which legalized weed on the last day of March, possessing marijuana is now legal, as is smoking in public anywhere you can smoke tobacco. But dispensaries are about a year and a half away.
A handful of other states across the country have already legalized and decriminalized the drug for recreational and medical use, suggesting that voters have changed their minds about whether marijuana is a gateway drug and whether people deserve to go to jail for possessing it.
And then there’s the money. Part of the reason voters like legalizing weed is the demonstrated impact it can have on the economy. After Colorado legalized weed, the state gave the tax dollars from weed sales to their public school systems to the tune of $160 million in the first five years. The states that are joining Colorado can expect to see a similar economic boom from the legalized, taxed, and regulated sale of the drug.
For parents of color and parents of older teenagers, legalization for people over 21 comes as a positive good in a time where young adults can have their entire careers, lives, and educational futures derailed if they’re caught with a gram of weed on them.
Marijuana has been minimally studied, so the health and safety ramifications of legalization are not fully known. The data thus far is deeply limited on questions like the public health effect on teenagers.
But it does seem that prohibition tends to be an inadequate public health response to drug use, and that legalization and decriminalization can help both remove the taboo of a drug, increase the amount of research put into the safety of that drug, and help people access that drug at a lower risk, as they’re honestly going to buy it no matter how legal or illegal it is. Research has shown time and time again that increasing safe access to potentially harmful substances, rather than restricting access and imprisoning those struggling with substance abuse issues, can help reduce the risk of death, sickness, and addiction.
Still, like any substance, it’s important that if you live in a state that has now or recently legalized marijuana to keep anything safely locked, stored, and out of sight and reach of your children. It’s also important to, just like alcohol, not partake in the drugs around your children, because of the mental, emotional, and social effects, along with the unknown physical health effects.
States Where Adult Recreational Use of Marijuana Is Legal
Marijuana can be purchased from a dispensary with a valid state-issued card in these states. Some of them also allow patients to harvest a limited amount of their own weed for personal medical use.
All of these states have also decriminalized marijuana and set up medical cannabis programs.
- New Jersey
- New York
- South Dakota
States Where Marijuana Has Been Decriminalized and/or Made Legal for Medical Use
Decriminalization of marijuana typically means no arrests, prison time, or criminal record for first-time offenders found in possession of a small amount of marijuana. More serious offenses might still face stiffer penalties, but simple possession charges are essentially treated like minor traffic violations. Selling marijuana remains against the law in states that have only decriminalized.
States that have enacted medical marijuana laws allow patients with specific medical diagnoses to receive a recommendation from a physician that they can use to obtain a medical marijuana card that allows them to purchase cannabis from dispensaries and, in some states, grow their own at home.
- Mississippi (Medical & Decriminalized)
- Arkansas (Medical)
- Florida (Medical)
- Louisiana (Medical)
- Oklahoma (Medical)
- Pennsylvania (Medical)
- Utah (Medical)
- West Virginia (Medical)
- Virginia (Decriminalized)
- Nebraska (Decriminalized)
- Connecticut (Medical & Decriminalized)
- Delaware (Medical & Decriminalized)
- Hawaii (Medical & Decriminalized)
- Maryland (Medical & Decriminalized)
- Minnesota (Medical & Decriminalized)
- New Hampshire (Medical & Decriminalized)
- New Mexico (Medical & Decriminalized)
- North Carolina (Decriminalized)
- North Dakota (Medical & Decriminalized)
- Ohio (Medical & Decriminalized)
- Rhode Island (Medical & Decriminalized)