Throw a stone and you’ll hit a news story these days about yet another state finally legalizing marijuana. Just a day after 4/20, on April 21, 2022, New Jersey became the latest to begin legal recreational marijuana sales. At the end of March in 2021, New York State joined the list of states with legal weed, and New Mexico’s legalization laws went into effect some short time after. The full impact of these laws will not be immediate — but major changes in terms of where weed is legal are on the way, as the number of states with legal weed grows. 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 Drug Enforcement Administration defines this 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.
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 possession of 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 older teenagers, legalization for adults over 21 comes as a positive in a time when young adults can have their entire careers, lives, and educational futures derailed if they’re caught with a gram of weed on them. This is particularly true for people of color and particularly Black people, who are arrested for possession at four times the rate of white people, despite about equal rates of consumption.
Marijuana has been minimally studied, so the health and safety ramifications of legalization are not fully known because it’s difficult to study a drug that’s illegal at the federal level. 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 legalized marijuana, to keep your weed 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 largely 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, thought not all of them have operational retail establishments yet.
Some of them also allow patients to harvest a limited amount of their own weed for personal use, and all have also decriminalized marijuana and set up medical cannabis programs.
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
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. Repeat or more serious offenders may face stiffer penalties, but simple possession charges in these states are typically treated like minor traffic violations. Selling marijuana remains against the law in states that have only decriminalized it.
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, which allows them to purchase cannabis from dispensaries and, in some states, grow their own at home.
These states have decriminalized cannabis possession:
- North Carolina
These states have legalized marijuana for medical use:
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
These states have both legalized cannabis for medical use and decriminalized it:
- New Hampshire
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island