Where Is Marijuana Legal? Cannabis Laws in Every State
Minnesota is now the 23rd state to legalize recreational marijuana for adults over 21.
Dan AveryFormer Writer
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On May 30, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz signed a bill legalizing recreational marijuana, making it the 23rd state to do so. "We've known for too long that prohibiting the use of cannabis hasn't worked," Walz, a member of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, said in a statement. "By legalizing adult-use cannabis, we're expanding our economy, creating jobs, and regulating the industry to keep Minnesotans safe."
HF 100 allows adults over 21 to possess up to two pounds of cannabis at home and two ounces in public. lt also establishes a 10% tax on recreational cannabis and calls for the expungement or resentencing of cannabis-related convictions.
The law is slated to go into effect Aug. 1, though retail dispensaries aren't expected to open until sometime next year, according to the Associated Press. Medical marijuana was legalized in Minnesota in 2014.
Here's what to know about marijuana in the US, including which states have legalized it, what's happening on the federal level and how Americans feel about pot.
Which states have legalized recreational marijuana?
Minnesota is the 23rd state to legalize the adult use of marijuana for recreational purposes, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The other states are Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington.
Adult-use marijuana is also legal in the District of Columbia, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.
What states have legalized medical marijuana?
As of May 2023, 37 states have legalized the medical use of cannabis to varying degrees: Alaska, Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and West Virginia.
In addition, all states with adult-use laws -- as well as the District of Columbia and the territories of Puerto Rico, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and the US Virgin Islands -- have legalized medical marijuana.
Each jurisdiction has its own criteria regarding what conditions cannabis can be prescribed for, the amount that can be sold and the process for issuing medical marijuana licenses.
What does federal law say about marijuana?
Despite the president's order, the Drug Enforcement Agency still classifies cannabis as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, "with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse."
Other Schedule I drugs include heroin and LSD, while cocaine is listed as a Schedule II drug.
In 2013, President Barack Obama directed the Justice Department to defer to state authorities in jurisdictions that had legalized marijuana, "based on assurances that those states will impose an appropriately strict regulatory system."
Known as the Cole Memo, this guidance was rescinded in 2018 by Jeff Sessions, attorney general under President Donald Trump. Marijuana legalization advocates have encouraged Biden to direct current Attorney General Merrick Garland to reinstate the Cole Memo.
How do Americans feel about legalizing weed?
According to a 2021 Pew Research poll, 91% of Americans believe cannabis should be legalized to some degree -- 31% for medical use only and 60% for both medical and recreational use. (Only 8% of respondents said marijuana should not be legal at all.)
Some 16% percent of Americans smoke pot, according to an August 2022 Gallup poll, which is more than the 11% of US adults who smoke cigarettes.
Gallup's research also found that nearly half (46%) of American adults say they've tried marijuana, despite it being registered as a Schedule I controlled substance by the federal government.
President Biden on legalizing marijuana
During his 2020 presidential campaign, then-candidate Biden promised to "decriminalize cannabis use and automatically expunge prior convictions."
If elected president, Biden said, he would "support the legalization of cannabis for medical purposes, leave decisions regarding legalization for recreational use up to the states, and reschedule cannabis as a Schedule II drug so researchers can study its positive and negative impacts," according to his campaign website,
Though the president can't repeal federal marijuana laws, Biden issued an executive order in October 2022 granting a pardon to anyone with a federal conviction for simple marijuana possession. He also directed the Department of Health and Human Services and Attorney General Merrick Garland to review whether marijuana should remain listed as a Schedule I substance.
What's the difference between legalization and decriminalization?
Many states that have legalized marijuana initially decriminalized possession of a small amount. Broadly speaking, cannabis "legalization" means passing laws that allow the buying, selling and possessing of marijuana, usually with restrictions on the age of the consumer and the amount purchased.
Decriminalization, on the other hand, typically means that violating certain marijuana laws can still result in fines or other penalties but not criminal charges or jail time.
In North Carolina, possession of half an ounce of marijuana or less is considered a Class 3 misdemeanor punishable by a $200 fine, "but any sentence of imprisonment imposed must be suspended."
In Nebraska, the first-offense possession of an ounce or less is punishable by a maximum fine of $300 and a possible requirement to complete a drug education course. A second conviction is considered a misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum fine of $500. Subsequent convictions are also misdemeanors, punishable by a maximum fine of $500 and up to seven days in jail.
Marijuana legalization efforts in Congress
As more states legalize medical and recreational marijuana, an increasing number of lawmakers want to square up federal laws so they don't conflict with state regulations. A number of bills introduced in both the House and Senate would address various aspects of marijuana legalization, from the criminal to the financial.
The Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act Now with the Senate, the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, or CAOA, would end the federal ban on cannabis and give state-compliant cannabis businesses access to financial services like bank accounts, business loans and credit card transactions.
The 296-page bill also addresses a federally mandated impaired-driving standard, cannabis industry workers' rights, and penalties for possessing or distributing large amounts of cannabis without a permit, Marijuana Moment reported.
"Hundreds of millions of Americans live in states that have legalized cannabis in some form while it remains illegal at the federal level," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, along with fellow Democrats Sen. Ron Wyden and Sen. Cory Booker, wrote in a February letter calling for input from fellow lawmakers.
That discrepancy "breeds confusion and uncertainty," they said -- and raises numerous questions in areas from small-business growth to public safety. Advocates of legalization hope the bill will get a vote this session, while the Democrats still hold the Senate.
"McConnell would never bring these things to the floor," Schumer said last year, referring to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, according to Politico. "We'll move forward and try to get this done as soon as we possibly can.
The MORE Act institutes a tax on cannabis to help communities impacted by decades of policing focused on nonviolent crimes related to marijuana use. The money would pay for programs such as job training, legal aid and youth mentoring.
It wouldn't require states to legalize cannabis, however. Regulation would be left up to state lawmakers.
The MORE Act originally passed the House in December 2020 -- the first time either chamber approved repealing federal marijuana prohibition -- but a matching bill in the Senate wasn't taken up for consideration.
In late March, the Senate unanimously approved the Cannabidiol and Marihuana Research Expansion Act, which would streamline the application process for researchers who want to study the medicinal value of cannabis and related products.
"This important legislation will cut the red tape around the research process, helping get FDA-approved, marijuana-derived medications safely to patients," Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California and a sponsor of the bill, said in a March 24 statement.