Where states stand on legalizing recreational and medical marijuana

Legalizing pot is on the ballot in several places this year.

July 14, 2018, 4:41 AM

While marijuana is illegal under federal law, a patchwork of state laws across the country determines where you can and cannot legally smoke pot.

Vermont’s law legalizing the recreational use of marijuana went into effect on July 1.

After Oklahoma’s ballot initiative, the legalization of both medical and recreational marijuana is on the ballot in several other states this year. In November, an initiative to legalize recreational pot will be on the ballot in Michigan and an initiative to legalize medical marijuana will be on the ballot in Utah.

States where recreational marijuana is legal

With Vermont’s marijuana legalization law now in effect, nine states and the District of Columbia have now either legalized the sale of pot or decriminalized its use.

Colorado and Washington made history in 2012 as the first states in the nation to legalize recreational marijuana after voters in those states approved ballot initiatives. In both states, marijuana can be purchased and used recreationally by people over 21 years old, but it is still illegal to smoke it in public space or drive under the influence of marijuana.

Since then, voters in five additional states have legalized both the sale and use of recreational marijuana: Oregon and Alaska in 2014 and Maine, Nevada and Massachusetts in 2016. Many of these states have also levied a tax on marijuana sales.

Pot sales began this year in California after voters also approved Proposition 64 in 2016. The state was the first to legalize medical marijuana in 1996.

The district attorney in San Francisco has retroactively applied the measure, tossing out thousands of marijuana convictions.

Washington, D.C. approved initiative 71 in 2014, which allows people over 21 to possess two ounces of pot, use it on private property, and give it as a gift. However, the sale of marijuana and its use in public spaces is still an illegal offense for which one can be arrested.

Vermont became the first state to legalize marijuana through a completely legislative process when its governor signed H.511 into law in January. Under the law, which went into effect on July 1, selling marijuana is still illegal in the state.

PHOTO: Flowering medicinal marijuana plants in Smith Falls, Ontario, Dec. 5, 2016.
Flowering medicinal marijuana plants in Smith Falls, Ontario, Dec. 5, 2016.
Lars Hagberg/AFP/Getty Images, FILE

States where medical marijuana is legal

Oklahoma is the most recent state to legalize medical marijuana with the recent approval of State Question 788. After the ballot question was passed, Gov. Mary Fallin, who opposed the initiative, said in a press release that “this new law is written so loosely that it opens the door for basically recreational marijuana.”

The state is among the most conservative to legalize medical marijuana.

Since 1996, 21 other states have legalized medical marijuana. State laws vary in how tightly they regulate its sale and its use, although most only allow its use for specified conditions and require patients and their caregivers to have a licensed use card.

Most states have set up dispensaries to distribute medical marijuana, although several have restrictions the number of dispensaries and some only allow them to be nonprofits.

Delaware, Michigan, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Arizona extend legal protections to medical marijuana cardholders from other states.

Arizona, where the state’s medical marijuana initiatives narrowly passed, has one of the more strict set of restrictions on who can be granted a medical marijuana card. State courts struck down a law aimed at prohibiting college students from having medical marijuana cards, but in June they ruled that hashish isn’t included in the law.

Laws in New York and West Virginia still prohibit smoking pot. Both allow people to consume marijuana in pills or as vapor, while West Virginia also allows tinctures, topical creams and patches.

Louisiana’s medical marijuana laws go into effect in August. Ohio’s medical marijuana law goes into effect in September, while Arkansas’s dispensaries are expected to be operational next year after being paused for pending litigation.

States where most recreational and medicinal marijuana use is illegal

In 20 remaining states, marijuana use is completely illegal with most still classifying the drug as a schedule I narcotic as it is under the federal Controlled Substances Act.

Four states prohibit marijuana in all of its forms, while the remaining 16 allow the use of cannabidiol oil for medical research into its ability to treat epilepsy and other seizure disorders.

South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Idaho prohibit all marijuana use. In Idaho, a bill that would legalize cannabidiol oil was vetoed by Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter in 2015.

States that allow cannabidiol oil range from Texas to Wyoming. Cannabidiol oil and other low THC products provide some of marijuana's medicinal benefits but won’t get you high.