The United States just keeps getting more chill: In the last two months, two more states—Connecticut and New Mexico—have legalized the recreational use of cannabis, setting the stage for retail sales in those areas at some point in the future. Coupled with the recent legalization of cannabis in Virginia, that brings the number of states where recreational use is permitted to 18; cannabis (as opposed to THC-free CBD) is still wholly illegal in 14 states, while the remainder allow for legal medical use, with varying restrictions.
Even as Americans grow more divided politically, cannabis continues to gain ground with every election cycle—and even in-between—as public support grows, having reached a high of nearly 70 percent according to a 2020 Gallup poll.
Of course, weed is also still illegal at the federal level. It’s classified as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act, putting it in the same category as heroin and other drugs considered to have “no medical use” and a high potential for abuse and dependence. Though efforts are underway to change the classification, for now, state laws simply allow exemptions for certain uses.
Here’s a rundown of where weed is legal for recreational and medical use (and where it isn’t).
States that legalized weed in 2020 and 2021
In addition to New York, Virginia, Connecticut, and New Mexico, which legalized recreational cannabis via legislation, five states had marijuana measures on the ballot in the 2020 election, and all five approved weed by a solid margin—though only one of those is currently offering recreational sales, and another has invalidated the voters’ will via the court system.
- Arizona: Prop 207 legalized marijuana growth, possession, and sales for those over 21. It will also expunge some past marijuana-related criminal offenses. Arizonans were allowed to grow and possess limited amounts of weed after Nov. 30, 2020, and the state recently began legal sales ahead of schedule.
- Connecticut: On June 22, 2021, Gov. Ned Lamont signed legislation legalizing the use and growth of recreational cannabis in the state, allowing adults of 21 to possess up to 1-1/2 ounces of the stuff for personal use (growing your own—up to six plants—won’t be legal until mid-2023). According to the New York Times, the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection hopes to begin issuing licenses for retail sales by end end of 2022.
- Mississippi: Initiative 65 launches a medical marijuana program in Mississippi for 22 health conditions. The law takes effect in August 2021.
- Montana: While Montana already allowed medical marijuana, Initiative 190 legalized possession, recreational use, and sales to adults over 21. It also permits those convicted of weed-related crimes to apply for resentencing or expungement. Most of the measure will take effect on Oct. 1, 2021.
- New Jersey: Question 1 legalized recreational weed for adults 21 and older, and New Jersey’s existing medical marijuana dispensaries will be allowed to sell to the general public as soon as lawmakers pass a bill covering regulations. Implementation wasn’t immediate, but state senators promised to move quickly. Here’s an update on what the law does and doesn’t cover, as of March 2021.
- New Mexico: A week after Connecticut, on June 29, 2021, New Mexico legalized recreational weed via legislation as well. In contrast to some other states, the immediate possession and home-growth of cannabis became legal almost immediately via the New Mexico Cannabis Regulation Act. Growers can cultivate up to 12 plants per household without a permit and possess up to two ounces. Working relatively speedily, the state hopes to begin issuing licenses for recreational sales by April 2022.
- New York: In contrast to the other states to recently legalize cannabis, New York went the legislative route rather than appealing to voters, hammering out new laws that dictate how cannabis will be taxed, where that revenue will go, and how past criminal offenses will be handled. While it will take some time for the state to figure out how to administer the new laws, upon the bill’s signing it became legal for New York residents to possess up to 3 ounces of cannabis for personal use.
- South Dakota: South Dakota passed two ballot measures—one establishing a medical marijuana program and the other legalizing weed possession, use, transport, and distribution for all adults. The latter, Amendment A, was to take effect on July 1, 2021, but the state legislature is currently working to counteract the will of the voters, with one judge already having declared the amendment invalid (a decision legal cannabis advocates have appealed with the state Supreme Court), and narrow and delay the implementation of the medical cannabis program, though the latter still took effect on July 1, 2021.
- Virginia: Another state to legalize “fun weed” this year, Virginia followed New York’s example in foregrounding efforts to “emphasize ‘social equity’” in structuring how the resulting tax revenue will be used, according to NPR. As of July 1, 2021, Virginia residents are able to legally possess up to an ounce of cannabis; lawmakers are still arguing over the timetable for establishing retail sales, which might not happen until 2024.
States that have legalized recreational marijuana
In 18 states, including 2020 and 2021’s new additions (and not counting South Dakota, where the matter is tied up in court), weed is treated like alcohol—it’s legal for adults (21 and over) to purchase and is regulated and taxed by the government. The specifics of what you can purchase and possess (and where) vary a bit by state. These states also have medical marijuana.
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
Recreational weed is also legal in Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.
States that have legal weed but no sales
In the District of Columbia, it’s legal to possess and grow limited amounts of weed, but there are no commercial sales outside of medical marijuana from a limited number of licensed dispensaries.
States that have medical cannabis laws
A number of states have legalized medical marijuana but do not allow broader recreational use.
- New Hampshire*
- New Mexico*
- North Dakota*
- Puerto Rico
- Rhode Island*
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
*According to the Marijuana Policy Project, these states have also decriminalized marijuana, reducing or removing jail time for possession of limited amounts of weed.
States that have decriminalized weed
Nebraska and North Carolina have laws that decriminalize marijuana to a degree, meaning penalties for first-time possession of small amounts of weed are reduced. Both have a suspended sentence for a first offense—Nebraska imposes a fine and a possible drug education course. Medical marijuana legislation has failed in both states.
States that have, well, (almost) nothing
The remaining states do not permit broad medical or recreational marijuana—nor is weed decriminalized—though all except for Idaho allow access to low-THC products containing CBD for medical use.
- South Carolina
An earlier version of this story included a graphic with errors. Washington and Vermont were incorrectly listed as states with legal medical marijuana rather than legal recreational use. Virginia was incorrectly categorized as having no medical marijuana program, but its first dispensaries opened in 2020. This article was update March 31, 2021 to reflect New York’s passage of legal cannabis, and again on April 9, 2021 to add information about Virginia’s legalization of cannabis and the efforts to subvert the will of the voters in South Dakota. It was updated again on July 27, 2022 to reflect changing laws in Connecticut, New Mexico, Alabama, and Mississippi.