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State Legal Status

Divided States

The division within the United States on cannabis laws underscores profound hypocrisy, where one state recognizes the medical potential and therapeutic benefits of cannabis while others maintain strict prohibitionist policies. This disparity highlights the arbitrary nature of cannabis prohibition, where individuals in one state can access cannabis for medical purposes, alleviating pain, seizures, and other ailments, while those in neighboring states face criminalization and stigma for the same actions. This inconsistency not only perpetuates social injustice and reinforces disparities in access to healthcare and legal protections but also impedes progress towards evidence-based drug policy reform that prioritizes public health and harm reduction over outdated ideologies. How embarrassing.
Legal For Recreation

Green States

The majority of states in the United States have legalized cannabis for recreational purposes, creating regulated cannabis industries that provide numerous benefits to both the state and its residents. The legalization of recreational cannabis has also led to increased tourism in these states, as visitors travel to experience legal cannabis markets and participate in cannabis-related activities such as dispensary tours, cannabis-infused dining experiences, and cannabis-friendly accommodations. This influx of tourists stimulates local economies, supports small businesses, and generates additional tax revenue for the state. Regulated cannabis industries offer consumers a safer and more reliable alternative to the illicit market, with access to tested and labeled products, education about responsible use, and opportunities to explore a wider range of cannabis products and consumption methods. They have expanded access to medical cannabis for patients, providing additional treatment options for individuals suffering from chronic pain, medical conditions, or debilitating illnesses.
Which States Are

Green States

24 states including Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington state, plus Washington D.C., have implemented comprehensive regulatory frameworks that govern the cultivation, processing, distribution, and sale of cannabis for adult recreational use. These regulated industries not only generate significant revenue through taxes and licensing fees but also create jobs across various sectors, including cultivation, retail, manufacturing, and ancillary services such as transportation, security, and marketing.
Legal For Medical Use

Medical States

Several states in the United States have legalized cannabis for medical purposes only, recognizing its potential therapeutic benefits and providing regulated access to patients in need. Regulated medical cannabis programs also benefit states by stimulating economic growth, creating jobs, and generating revenue through taxes and licensing fees. Medical cannabis cultivation, processing, distribution, and sales operations create employment opportunities across the supply chain, from cultivation technicians and lab technicians to retail associates and healthcare professionals. The legalization of medical cannabis fosters innovation and research in the field of cannabis therapeutics, leading to advancements in understanding the plant’s medicinal properties and potential applications. Regulated medical cannabis programs prioritize patient safety and access to quality-controlled products, offering peace of mind to patients and caregivers while reducing reliance on unregulated or illicit sources.
Which States Are

Medical States

13 states including Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Utah, and West Virginia have established medical cannabis programs that allow qualified patients to obtain cannabis products with a doctor’s recommendation. These regulated industries provide patients with access to a wider range of medical alternatives, including cannabis flower, oils, tinctures, edibles, topicals, and more, offering relief for symptoms associated with various medical conditions such as chronic pain, epilepsy, cancer, PTSD, and multiple sclerosis.
Possession could mean prison

Criminal States

Several states in the United States continue to keep cannabis illegal, maintaining prohibitionist policies that perpetuate an unregulated underground industry. In these states, individuals may resort to illicit or unregulated sources to obtain cannabis, exposing themselves to potentially dangerous products of unknown potency, purity, and quality. The lack of regulation also means that consumers have limited access to medical cannabis alternatives, depriving patients of potentially effective treatments for various medical conditions and ailments. The criminalization of cannabis in these states contributes to higher rates of incarceration, disproportionately affecting communities of color and exacerbating social inequalities.
Which States Are

Criminal States

11 states including Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin, and Wyoming have kept cannabis possession illegal and punishable. Two more, Nebraska and North Carolina, have opted to keep cannabis illegal but decriminalize it so offenders get penalties instead of prosecution. These states miss out on the economic benefits associated with a regulated cannabis industry. By failing to legalize and regulate cannabis, these states forego opportunities to create jobs, stimulate economic growth, and generate revenue through taxes and licensing fees. The absence of a legal cannabis market also means that valuable tax revenue that could be allocated towards healthcare, education, and other essential services is lost. Enforcement of cannabis prohibition strains law enforcement resources, exacerbates overcrowding in prisons and jails, and perpetuates cycles of incarceration and criminalization that harm individuals, families, and communities. Maintaining cannabis prohibition not only stifles economic potential but also undermines public health, safety, and social justice.
Growing Acceptance

Public Opinion

American public opinion has come to embrace cannabis over the years due to changing cultural attitudes, evolving scientific understanding, and shifting demographics. Gallup polls have documented a substantial rise in favorability towards cannabis legalization, with support increasing from around 25% in the early 1990s to over 60% in recent years. Similarly, Pew Research Center surveys have indicated a similar trend, with a growing majority of Americans expressing support for legal access to cannabis, particularly for medical purposes. These polls reflect a broader societal shift towards viewing cannabis as a relatively benign substance with potential medical and therapeutic benefits, leading to greater acceptance and support for cannabis reform efforts nationwide.

Recent Efforts

Recent efforts to undo the harm of cannabis prohibition through policy changes have focused on addressing the disproportionate impact of drug enforcement on communities of color and individuals with prior cannabis convictions. One key initiative has been the pardoning and expungement of cannabis-related convictions by state governors and local officials. These efforts aim to provide relief to individuals burdened by past convictions for non-violent cannabis offenses, which can hinder employment, housing, and educational opportunities. Another has been the implementation of equity programs in states with legalized cannabis markets. Some states have established programs that provide financial assistance, technical support, and expedited licensing to minority-owned businesses seeking to operate cannabis dispensaries or cultivation facilities. By promoting diversity and inclusion in the cannabis industry, policymakers aim to address historical inequities, create economic opportunities, and foster community reinvestment in areas affected by past drug enforcement policies.
We The People

Next Steps

The federal government’s next step to enact the citizens’ will and deliver promised freedoms regarding cannabis should be to pursue comprehensive cannabis reform at the federal level. This could involve a combination of rescheduling cannabis under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), decriminalizing cannabis possession at the federal level, and implementing a regulatory framework for the production, distribution, and sale of cannabis products similar to alcohol. Rescheduling cannabis would recognize its potential medical benefits and remove barriers to research, while decriminalization would reduce the harms associated with cannabis prohibition, including disproportionate enforcement and incarceration rates. Regulating cannabis like alcohol would establish clear rules and standards for cultivation, production, labeling, and sales, ensuring consumer safety and responsible consumption while generating tax revenue to support public health, education, and drug prevention programs.
Ongoing Arrests


As policymakers grapple with establishing a legal framework for cannabis, individuals in states without legalized cannabis face ongoing risks of arrest, detention, and incarceration for cannabis-related offenses, leading to unnecessary disruptions to their lives and livelihoods. In 2018, four in 10 drug arrests in the United States were for cannabis possession, sale or manufacture. According to the FBI, in 2018, of the 1.65 million total drug arrests, 663,000 were for cannabis and 92% of those were for possession. However, in 2020 the FBI reported the number of cannabis arrests was down to 300,000. Part of this can be attributed to additional states legalizing cannabis for medical or recreational use. Another aspect to consider is the impact of pandemic lockdown conditions as arrests for all drugs were down 25% from 2019.
What Should Be Done

Cannabis Reform

By adopting a more progressive and evidence-based approach to cannabis policy, the federal government can better reflect the will of the citizens and address the growing momentum for cannabis reform across the country. Such reforms would align federal law with the changing attitudes towards cannabis, promote social justice and equity, and create new economic opportunities while protecting public health and safety. Federal cannabis reform would provide much-needed clarity and consistency for states that have already legalized cannabis for medical or recreational use, facilitating interstate commerce and cooperation while ensuring that cannabis businesses can operate legally and responsibly under federal law. Prioritizing cannabis reform at the federal level would represent a significant step towards fulfilling promised freedoms and advancing a more rational and equitable approach to drug policy in the United States.
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