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Where We're at with Legal Cannabis in the United States

Here's everything you need to know about the legalization and the recent midterm elections results.

The recent midterm elections included ballot measures to legalize cannabis in five states. Only two of the five referendums passed, but that’s two more to add to the list. Here’s everything you need to know about where we stand with legal cannabis.

Where Cannabis is Currently Legal: State by State

Over the last decades, states across the country have overturned the prohibition of marijuana for medicinal and recreational use in nearly half of the country. In 2012, Colorado and Washington were the first to approve ballot measures to legalize cannabis. Quickly, other states followed suit.

Recreational vs. Medical- What does it mean, and what’s the difference?
Currently, twenty-one states allow (or will allow) the sale and use of recreational cannabis for adults. Washington D.C. and the U.S. territory of Northern Mariana Island also legalized it. Most of the remaining states do allow for medicinal use, but there are still eleven states where cannabis is completely banned.
Essentially, the difference is that in medical-only states, you must apply for a special license and get it approved and certified by a practicing physician. Some states, like California and, most recently, Florida, have clinics where you can get this done very quickly. However, acquiring a medical license can be more complex and expensive in many other states.
In recreationally legal states, adults over the age of twenty-one years old can purchase cannabis products in a dispensary or retail store. However, what a person can buy and in what quantities varies from state to state.

States Where Cannabis is Legal for Recreational Use

Over the last decade, nearly half of the states have gone legal, beginning in 2012. For the first time, weed became legal to purchase for recreational use in Colorado and Washington state.

Two short years later, Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, D.C. joined the small, growing group of states.

In 2016, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, and California all passed ballot measures to legalize cannabis. In 2018, Michigan and Vermont followed suit. In 2019, the U.S. territories of Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands and the state of Illinois legalized the plant.

Since 2020, many more states have followed the trend, especially after seeing how well Colorado, Michigan, and a few other states have benefited from the tax dollars. Colorado, especially, has seen billions pour into their economy in excess and, in doing so, has been able to divert those funds towards other necessities, like education and the homelessness issue.

In 2020, Arizona, Montana, and New Jersey voted “Yes” to legalize cannabis. Last year in 2021, New York, Virginia, New Mexico, and Connecticut agreed to let the people roll up legally.

States and Territories Where Cannabis is Legal for Medical Use Only

All legal states also offer medical access to people with licenses, and there are eighteen states that still only provide medical:
*Georgia has only legalized CBD products, not THC products.

States Where Cannabis is Still Completely Illegal

Most states have come to understand the medicinal benefits of cannabis and have embraced it. Almost half of the states support adults enjoying it or using it for various ailments. Still, several states firmly hold their stance on the controversial plant. Though some have seen measures on election ballots to decriminalize or legalize cannabis, most voters have yet to agree. Here are the eleven states remaining with laws against marijuana:

2022 Midterm Election Results

States Who Voted "Yes" to Legalize Cannabis

Five states tried to pass ballot measures to legalize cannabis earlier this month. Two out of the five voted YES to legal pot, but three still voted against it. Here’s the breakdown:


The state of Maryland passed the referendum with 61% of voters. The measure will take effect July 1, 2023, allowing up to 1.5 ounces and the cultivation of up to two plants. Prior marijuana convictions will be expunged, and those serving time can petition their sentences. This measure is a considerable step toward criminal justice reform and racial justice.


The state of Missouri passed its ballot measure with 53% of voters. Beginning as soon as December 8, this measure will issue a 6% tax on recreational cannabis. The revised amendment to the state constitution will also release and expunge criminal and civil records for anyone who is or has been incarcerated, paroled, or on probation for nonviolent marijuana-related crimes.

States Who Voted "No" to Legalize Cannabis

Even though all three states offer medical marijuana to patients in their respective states, Arkansas, North Dakota, and South Dakota all voted again legalizing cannabis for adult recreational use.


56% of voters in Arkansas turned down the measure to allow adults 21 years and over to buy, consume and possess cannabis legally.  

North Dakota

Four years after voting “No” on a similar measure, 55% of voters opposed the ballot measure to legalize cannabis in North Dakota.

South Dakota

53% of voters in South Dakota voted against making marijuana legal. Two years ago, a measure did pass, but the State Supreme Court shot it down after contending it for violating a state requirement in the constitution.

What the Future Looks Like for Cannabis

According to their recent poll, 91% of Americans think that cannabis should be legal to some degree. 60% agree that it should be legal for recreational and medical use. 31% agree that it should be used for medical purposes only, and less than 8% think it should be outlawed entirely.
With so much support for cannabis, it’s hard to see a future that doesn’t involve federal legalization. It’s just a matter of time.
Brian Vicente, a cannabis activist behind Colorado’s 2012 ballot measure passing, said in a statement shared with CNET, “These votes will provide a boost to cannabis reformers in D.C., which makes significant federal reform a real possibility this year,”
He continues, saying [the election results] will “move the country closer to an important psychological and policy milestone,” Vicente added, “having a majority of states with legal cannabis.”