With American support for legalizing cannabis at an all-time high, all sorts of people are keeping up with news about it. Which state will be the next one to fully legalize it? Who's the latest politician to introduce a legalization bill? It has gone from a political debate question to something both sides of the spectrum have found some common ground on.
It's definitely exciting news for a lot of people, but approach the topic with caution. After all, federally it's still an illegal drug, classified as a Schedule 1 drug by the DEA. States that have legalized it tend to have some slight (and some not so slight) differences in how the laws are enforced. If you don't have the details down about your state's marijuana laws, you could end up in trouble.
For people who live in Idaho, Nebraska, Kansas, and South Dakota, you have a pretty easy explainer: it's illegal. In all forms. If you live in another state, though, certain forms of cannabis are legal, depending on the form they take and the reason for taking them.
States with Legalized Medical Cannabis
As support for medical marijuana increased, some states began to change their attitudes and test the waters of allowing for legal medical cannabis use. And as more people were treated with it, support grew even more. An April 2018 poll found that 93% of those asked supported legalizing medicinal marijuana. Things changed, and they changed fast.
That hasn't necessarily translated to country-wide medical cannabis, but the momentum has certainly been in its favor. In May of 2018, 29 states and Washington D.C. all have medical marijuana legalized: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia.
What differs from state-to-state are the details. The amount you can legally possess, the conditions that can lead to a prescription, whether you're allowed to cultivate it at home, etc. Arizona, for example, caps the limit at 2.5 ounces of marijuana. New Jersey allows for 2 ounces, while Delaware lets you have up to 6. Some states, like Montana, allow for patients with medical marijuana prescriptions to grow and cultivate a limited amount in their home.
Looking for some more specifics about your state's medical cannabis laws? The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML, has state-by-state details available on their website.
States with Legalized Recreational Cannabis
Legal recreational weed is definitely much rarer than medical weed, but the surge in popularity has led to more states legalizing it entirely. Fifteen years ago, that would have been unthinkable.
In total, 9 states - as well as the Washington D.C. - have legalized recreational marijuana. The other states are Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington.
The first states to do it were Colorado and Washington back in 2012. One of the most recent states to pass legal weed, Vermont, didn't even need a ballot - the initiative successfully passed through state legislature, the first to do so.
For the states that have legalized it, marijuana has been a real boon for statewide sales. California, with its massive population, leads the sales numbers for recreational marijuana across all states that legalized it with $2.75 billion. Colorado and Washington have also crossed the billion-dollar mark. Even Alaska, with a population under 1 million, has close to $40 million in sales.
States That Decriminalized Cannabis
There are several states that have yet to legalize it, but have still chosen to take at least one step forward by decriminalizing marijuana. This means that it is still illegal to possess cannabis, but small amounts won't lead to an arrest, prison time, or a criminal record. It's essentially a parking ticket.
There are 13 states that have decriminalized marijuana without fully legalizing it: Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and Rhode Island.
Details vary state by state. Nebraska doesn't have any legal marijuana of any sort, so even their decriminalization is strict: possessing 1 oz or less is just a fine, but any more is at least a misdemeanor.
States with Legalized CBD
Cannabidiol, more informally known as CBD, has either trace or no amounts of THC in it, depending on where it was extracted from. As a result, some states that haven't legalized medical marijuana have made some exceptions for medical CBD.
Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming all have some form of medical CBD legalized. Most of these states have only legalized it for epilepsy disorders that have proven difficult to treat, though Virginia expanded the law to other conditions in March of 2018.
The exceptions are Georgia and Iowa, which have a far more expanded CBD allowance. These states allow for conditions like Parkinson's disease, Crohn's disease, cancer, ALS, and AIDS to also be treated with cannabidiol.
What Other Countries Have Legalized Cannabis?
We know the United States is slowly coming around on marijuana, but what about the rest of the world? Are there countries out there with more lax laws on pot?
The answer is yes, a few, and that there will likely be more in the future. Canada, for example, has had legal medical marijuana available for nearly 20 years now, and could be very close to officially having legal recreational cannabis as well. A bill for legal weed has passed through Canada's House of Commons and Senate, but has gone through some delays. Still, there remains optimism that Canadian citizens will have legal weed by the end of summer 2018.
Uruguay legalized recreational use in 2017, after legalizing cultivation in 2014. The citizens have the opportunity to purchase it from pharmacies, grow it at home, or participate in "cannabis clubs," private places where paying members can use the cannabis the club produces.
Spain has had a strong culture of cannabis clubs for some time now, due to cannabis being legal there in private areas but illegal (albeit decriminalized) in public areas.
In terms of medical cannabis, Argentina legalized it in 2017, as do a number of places in Australia. Despite the erosion of cannabis's reputation as a harmful drug, there's still quite a bit left to do before more widespread legalization worldwide.
What States Could Be Next?
9 states (and D.C.) isn't very many states with 100% legalization. But the cause has enough support now that there are local politicians running with legal recreational weed as a major platform - and sometimes, those politicians even win.
That's what Phil Murphy did in New Jersey. Murphy ran for governor in 2017 with a platform that included legalizing cannabis and won handily. Currently he's still pushing for legalization, though his Congress remains mixed on the issue. Should he successfully push legislation through, NJ could be the next state with legal weed.
Michigan also has a chance to be the next state for legal recreational weed. It's actually on the ballot in November just in time for midterm elections. Could the cause bring out new voters that may not have otherwise shown up?
Meanwhile, Oklahoma may catch up to 29 other states by putting medical marijuana on the ballot, and groups in Utah are putting efforts into getting it onto the ballot there as well. The United States could end up with several states having new cannabis laws by the end of 2018.