Where Is Marijuana Legal? A Guide to Marijuana Legalization

Where Is Marijuana Legal? Recreational marijuana is legal in 18 states, Washington, D.C., and Guam

On Election Day in 2012, voters in Colorado approved a ballot initiative legalizing the recreational use and sale of cannabis, making the state the first in the U.S. to do so.

Seventeen other states, Washington, D.C., and Guam would go on to legalize the drug in the next nine years as public support for legalization rose rapidly – despite marijuana being illegal at the federal level.

Some strains of the cannabis plant – often called marijuana or weed – contain a psychoactive compound called THC that produces a “high” when ingested.

Today, support for marijuana legalization has become mainstream among Democratic politicians, and some Republicans also back the idea. State legislatures are grappling with if and how to legalize the drug, while several marijuana-related bills – including those aiming to decriminalize it on the federal level – have been introduced in Congress. Most recently, the House passed a marijuana decriminalization bill on April 1, 2022, but it was facing an uncertain future in the Senate.

States Where Marijuana Is Legal

Opponents say marijuana poses a public health and safety risk, and some are morally against legalization. Proponents, however, argue that it is not as dangerous as alcohol and point to evidence that it has therapeutic benefits, such as stress and pain relief.

Advocates also see it as a moneymaker for states and a necessary social justice initiative. Marijuana laws have disproportionately affected people from minority communities, contributing to mass incarceration. States where the drug is legal to have sought to retroactively address the consequences of marijuana prohibition, often including provisions allowing for the expungement or vacation of low-level marijuana convictions.

States where recreational marijuana is legal:


Retail marijuana could hit the shelves in Vermont in the fall of 2022, according to television station WCAX. The District of Columbia is set to have a regulated recreational market as soon as August 2022, but a proposed budget in Congress could keep a ban on sales in the district in place. Meanwhile, Guam officials in November 2021 got closer to launching the territory’s own industry by contracting with Metrc, a provider of cannabis regulatory systems.

States have their own processes for licensing dispensaries, but in all states where marijuana is legal, businesses that sell marijuana must have a license from the state to do so.

The sales are regulated and taxed by the states at varying rates. Some states implement an excise tax on sales, which are taxes on a particular good – in this case, marijuana – levied on the seller, which typically passes it on to the consumer by including it in the product’s price.

Provisions outlining the amount of marijuana an adult can legally possess if adults can grow their own marijuana plants and how the tax revenue is spent vary from state to state.

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