Is Cannabis Legal in the US? Learn Where, When & Why | PAX

Over the years, the legal status of cannabis has undergone multiple changes. It has transitioned from an herbal remedy to an illegal substance to a widely-accepted pastime. Since laws vary based on state, the legal status of cannabis changes depending on where you go. When you are enjoying some cannabis in your PAX 3, it's a good idea to be up to date on your region's cannabis laws. Here are some important details to know about cannabis' current and future legal status.

Types of Legal Cannabis

Legal cannabis is a very broad concept. This term refers to just about any type of cannabis you can possess without facing criminal charges. Depending on where you go, you may encounter one or more of the following types of legal cannabis.

Recreational Marijuana

Recreational marijuana is the broadest form of legal cannabis. In recreational weed states, cannabis is treated just like alcohol. It's fully legal for adult use, and people can possess and consume it without facing criminal charges. Some states with recreational dispensaries require you to buy cannabis products from licensed dealers. Other states with recreational laws allow you to grow your plants at home. Even in states that legalize marijuana, there may still be rules about how much you can possess or where you can consume it.

Medical Marijuana

Medical marijuana is a type of marijuana that is only legal by prescription. Some states have very strict systems where patients can only fill their prescriptions from specific dispensaries. Other states allow prescription holders a variety of options for how to obtain their cannabis.[1] Legal medical marijuana is even more common than recreational cannabis. How many states have legalized weed for medical use? As of November 2022, 37 states have legalized medical cannabis.[5]

Decriminalized Marijuana

Even if a state doesn't have legal or medical cannabis, cannabis use might be allowed in certain areas. Some cities have chosen to decriminalize cannabis possession. If you're found with cannabis in these regions, you just face a small civil fine instead of a criminal suit and jail time. These laws tend to be highly specific and only apply to certain areas, so you'll need to check your local statutes to see if cannabis is decriminalized in your city.[4]

How Many States Have Legalized Cannabis?

As of November 2022, many states have enacted laws to legalize cannabis. Where is weed legalized? There are 19 states with legal recreational cannabis, and other independent regions, such as Washington D.C. and Guam, have also legalized it. Currently, legalized recreational cannabis is available in the following states.

  • Colorado
  • Washington
  • Alaska
  • Oregon
  • Washington, D.C.
  • California
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • Nevada
  • Michigan
  • Vermont
  • Illinois
  • Arizona
  • Montana
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Virginia
  • New Mexico
  • Connecticut
  • Rhode Island
  • Maryland
  • Missouri
  • Guam

How Many States Have Recreational Dispensaries?

Every state has its own specific rules for how recreational cannabis use is handled. The majority of legal states use a dispensary model. These are state-run or state-licensed stores where people can safely buy approved cannabis products. You can get recreational cannabis from a dispensary in the following states:

  • Colorado
  • Washington
  • Alaska
  • Oregon
  • California
  • Massachusetts
  • Nevada
  • Illinois
  • New Mexico

The Future of Cannabis Legalization

So what's next for cannabis legalization? The 2022 midterm election had some important changes that signal more change in the future.

States That Recently Voted to Legalize

In 2022 alone, there were three new states that decided to update their cannabis laws. In May, Rhode Island's legislature passed a law allowing legal, recreational cannabis use. The new law also allows private cultivation at home. In the November midterms, two other states' populations voted to allow cannabis use in ballot referendums. These changes won't go into effect immediately, but starting in late 2022 and 2023, cannabis will be legal in Maryland and Missouri.

States Expected to have Cannabis on the Ballot

Cannabis advocates believe that Ohio will be the next state to legalize. They are on track to add a measure to the ballot in 2023, and polls show plenty of support for marijuana legalization. Another state that is likely to legalize is Minnesota, where Democrats will be in control of both the governor's office and the legislative branches. Finally, there is a chance of new attempts to legalize in South Dakota, Arkansas, and North Dakota, where ballot measures this year were just narrowly defeated.

Federal Changes to Cannabis Laws

Many states are working to change their marijuana laws, but unfortunately, cannabis remains illegal on a federal level. This can make it difficult to travel between states with cannabis. It also makes it harder for some cannabis companies to operate. They often cannot use national services like banks.

There have been some reassuring shifts in federal policy lately. In October, President Biden pardoned all people imprisoned on a federal level for nonviolent cannabis possession. This freed over 6,500 people, and it signaled a favorable attitude toward national legalization.[6] With growing bipartisan support for cannabis legalization, it certainly seems as if the nation may be moving toward federal legalization.

Ultimately, the path to legalization has been long, but the results are very reassuring. The majority of Americans support legalization, and many states are expected to change their laws soon. Though it will still take some time for national legalization to occur, people everywhere may eventually be able to enjoy cannabis without worrying about legal penalties.

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