Marijuana Legalization 2018: A State-by-State Guide to Legal Weed

Few places are safe.

Although marijuana remains prohibited by federal law, an increasing number of US states have legalized the drug for medical and recreational use in the past few years. In fact, some politicians are running in the 2018 midterm elections on explicitly pro-marijuana platforms.

This kind of mainstream support for legalization would’ve been practically unthinkable 20 years ago. While the exact regulations vary state-by-state, there are three main statewide stances on marijuana: legalized for recreational and medical use, legalized for only medical use, and completely prohibited in line with federal policy. As the definition of legal for medical use varies across states, counting gets convoluted fast.

This article, originally published on April 18, 2018, was updated on December 5, 2018, with additional reporting by Tiffany Jeung.

marijuana laws

Legal Weed for Recreational and Medical Use

Ten states and the District of Columbia have legalized weed for both medical and recreational use. Of this group, Vermont is the only state to have legalized marijuana for recreational use through its legislature (Vermont’s law goes into effect on July 1). The rest legalized weed through a voter referendum.

Some of the states have yet to set up a market for purchasing marijuana. Vermont, for example, allows adults 21 and over to possess and grow their own stash, but you can’t sell your goods for non-medical use. In Washington, D.C., you can smoke, possess, and gift marijuana, but you can’t legally buy or sell it. On the other hand, Washington and Colorado are homes to a booming marijuana industry that brings in a significant amount of tax dollars ($315 million and $247 million in 2017). Here are all the places where recreational weed is allowed:

  • Alaska
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Nevada
  • Oregon
  • Vermont
  • Washington
  • Washington D.C.

Legal Weed for Medical Use

There are 25 states that have legalized marijuana for medical use only. Ten of these states (marked in bold) also decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana. Among these states, about one-third only allow marijuana oils that are high in CBD, the therapeutic ingredient in weed, and low in THC, the psychoactive element. The rest allow the purchase of marijuana from a medical dispensary with a medical marijuana license. The requirements for, and difficulty of, procuring a license, vary by state. Here are all the states where you can legally light up — but only with a doctors note.

  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Iowa
  • Louisiana
  • Maryland
  • Minnesota
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • Utah
  • West Virginia

Marijuana Still Prohibited

This leaves 15 states complying with federal law, leaving marijuana use completely illegal. A few have loosened the penalty of possession If all of these states legalize medical marijuana in the coming years, we could be left in a peculiar legal situation where every state is in direct conflict with the federal government on marijuana. Here are the states where any medical or recreational marijuana use is illegal:

  • Alabama (One form of cannabis was legally approved for use specifically for a state-sponsored clinical trial with the University of Alabama in 2014. That’s it.)
  • Idaho
  • Indiana
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky (The state passed a limited bill allowed CBD oil for treating seizures, but legally excludes CBD as marijuana.)
  • Mississippi (Legalized medical use for treating epilepsy under Harper Grace’s law, but often considered too narrow to count.)
  • Nebraska
  • North Carolina (Legalized marijuana use for treating epilepsy through the Hope for Haley and Friends bill in 2015, but considered too narrow to count.)
  • South Carolina (Law authorizing medical use considered too narrow to count.)
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee (Law authorizing marijuana use connected to seizure-related university studies considered too narrow to count.)
  • Texas (Law authorizing marijuana use treating seizures considered too narrow to count.)
  • Virginia (Law authorizing “affirmative defense” to those charged with possession, combined with limitations to oil form considered too narrow to count.)
  • Wisconsin (In a non-binding referendum posed last November, counties overwhelmingly voted to legalize marijuana for recreational and medicinal use. This referendum has not turned into a legal change, though.)
  • Wyoming

Despite its classification as a Schedule 1 drug — meaning that it has “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse” — popular support for marijuana has reached a fever pitch. A Pew Research poll in January found that 61 percent of Americans believe marijuana should be legal.