States With Legal Weed Outnumber Those Without

By: Karina Buggy  | 
marijuana symbol  with legal text in neon lights
Ohio was the most recent state to legalize recreational marijuana. Read on to learn which other states share its company. Carol Yepes / Getty Images

As a remnant of the legacy of President Nixon and the Controlled Substance Act of 1970, cannabis plants are still categorized as Schedule I narcotics at the federal level. Although federal law remains less progressive than state laws, several states with legal weed permit medical or recreational use for citizens.

As of publication, there are currently 24 states — plus the District of Columbia — which have fully legalized weed for adult use, while only six states are standing their ground with no path to marijuana legalization in the foreseeable future.

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Marijuana laws are dynamic across all 50 states, and specific laws around the legalization of medical and recreational use can quickly change within a state. Although varied and changing laws can be confusing, it's important to research and respect the laws within a state if you are a current resident or visiting as a tourist.

What Is the Difference Between Medical Marijuana and Recreational Marijuana?

One of the most important distinctions in state laws on marijuana focuses on recreational and medical use. Accepted medical marijuana laws provide a legal exception for citizens smoking marijuana (or consuming via another method) for medical purposes.

Medical weed laws vary widely, with some permitting home cultivation of marijuana plants, typically with a limit ranging up to six plants per patient or household. However, some states, like South Carolina or Texas, may only allow concentrated cannabis oil high in CBD or other byproducts of the cannabis plant.

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Recreational cannabis state laws also vary from universal adult-use marijuana legalization to strong legalized medical marijuana legislation with a clear path to surpass accepted medical use.

Revision of state law by ballot measure can take a strong medical program to a legalized marijuana state in a short time. For example, Ohio voters recently passed Section 3780 on December 7, 2023, to become the most recent state where it is legal to grow, cultivate, sell and consume marijuana.

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14 States Where Marijuana Is Legalized for Medical Use

If a state has firm laws on medical cannabis use, it allows its citizens to consume marijuana for an accepted medical use, like to treat symptoms of a chronic medical condition such as glaucoma or cancer.

In these instances smoking cannabis plants and growing medical marijuana is legal as long as all stipulations are met. Medical cannabis users may opt to grow a single plant outdoors or take their green thumb to the next level with a grow house to cultivate their own medical marijuana.

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However, some state medical cannabis laws are either confusing or under threat of reversing. For example, North Dakota, South Dakota and Utah are all states with a medical marijuana law, but recreational marijuana legalization or decriminalized cannabis statutes are still under debate.

The following states have legalized marijuana for medical use only.

  1. Alabama
  2. Arkansas
  3. Florida
  4. Hawaii
  5. Kentucky
  6. Lousiana
  7. Mississippi
  8. New Hampshire
  9. North Dakota
  10. Oklahoma
  11. Pennsylvania
  12. South Dakota
  13. Utah
  14. West Virginia

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24 States Where Marijuana Is Legalized for Recreational Use

The push to legalize marijuana for commercial production and retail sales for adults 21 and over has become a hot-button issue as states with recreational weed income have enjoyed increased taxes from legal marijuana sales.

However, these first states with legalized recreational cannabis sales have also become the pioneers of marijuana regulation. In most cases, states rely on systems already in place for alcohol sales and depend heavily on government organizations like the OLCC in Oregon to regulate cannabis and ensure safety for minors.

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The following states have state-sanctioned recreational marijuana dispensaries and have made leaps and bounds on the decriminalized marijuana front.

  1. Alaska
  2. Arizona
  3. California
  4. Colorado
  5. Connecticut
  6. District of Columbia
  7. Illinois
  8. Maine
  9. Maryland
  10. Massachusetts
  11. Michigan
  12. Minnesota
  13. Missouri
  14. Montana
  15. Nevada
  16. New Jersey
  17. New Mexico
  18. New York
  19. Ohio
  20. Oregon
  21. Rhode Island
  22. Vermont
  23. Virginia
  24. Washington

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7 States Where Marijuana Is Decriminalized but Not Fully Legal

Different from legalization, some states have opted to pass laws to decriminalize marijuana without going so far as to legalize recreational marijuana.

Typically, decriminalization would mean that arrest, a prison sentence or a criminal record would not be in the cards for a first-time offender. Possession of a small amount of marijuana intended for personal consumption could be treated with the severity of a minor traffic violation in states or municipalities that have decriminalized marijuana.

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Some of the states that have decriminalized marijuana have also legalized its use, for either medical or recreational purposes, while in other states possession of cannabis is still considered a criminal offense, but the historic repercussion of jail time has been removed.

The following states have decriminalized the possession of marijuana, to varying degrees.

  1. Delaware
  2. Hawaii
  3. Mississippi
  4. Nebraska
  5. New Hampshire
  6. North Carolina
  7. North Dakota

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Ongoing Debates Over Legalizing Marijuana

Although the federal government still ranks marijuana at the same destructive level as heroin and other hard drugs, the growing trend of states moving toward marijuana legalization has pressured the justice department to reevaluate how they handle certain cannabis offenses in the court of law.

This example of when a state law contradicts a U.S. federal law challenges governing bodies and can prompt changes in enforcement.

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Federal prosecution still leans on the controlled substance legislation in place. However, the Obama administration began supporting decriminalized cannabis and cannabis offense record clearance as early as the 2010s.

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