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Cannabis in the United States: Legalization of Cannabis

Our last post discussed cannabis research, what cannabis can help with, and what’s new with cannabis research. As we come close to finishing our series, it’s time to talk about the legalization of cannabis. We’re going to talk about different states that have legalized cannabis, what that has meant for them and what could be next for legalizing cannabis.

What states have legalized weed, and what does legal weed do for them?

18 states and the District of Columbia (D.C.) have fully legalized medical and recreational cannabis, while 27 states have legalized medical use and/or decriminalized cannabis. Let’s break down which states have fully legalized cannabis and when.


Governor Kay Ivey signed Sen. Tim Melson’s Compassion Act, SB 46, in 2021, which legalized medical marijuana. With this law, a 9% gross tax is levied on medical retail sales, and after regulatory costs, 60% of the remaining revenue is distributed to the general fund, and 30% funds medical research.


Alaska legalized medicinal use of marijuana in 1998 with the Alaska Medical Marijuana Initiative, Measure 8, but patients and caregivers had a hard time obtaining the plant. In 2014 the Alaska Measure 2 was passed, allowing adults 21+ to possess and use marijuana for recreational purposes. 25% of the tax revenue goes to the general fund, 50% to the Department of Public Safety, Health and Social Services, and the Department of Corrections. The other 25% goes to marijuana education.


In 2010, our state of Arizona legalized medical marijuana when Proposition 203 passed. In 2020, Proposition 207 passed, which allowed the sales of recreational marijuana use for adults. Marijuana is subject to a flat sales tax rate of 5.6%, but recreational customers have an excise of 16% tax for their purchases. The tax revenue funds state agencies such as the Department of Health Service and the Department of Public Safety. The remaining funds are split between community college districts, police and fire departments, the Highway User Fund, and a Justice Investment Fund.


Arkansas first legalized medical marijuana in 2016, but patients didn’t have access to their medicine until 2019. Patients, caregivers, and cannabis facilities pay registration fees to the Health Department. All sales tax revenue covers the administrative costs of running the program and anything remaining is then distributed to the general revenue fund.


California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana by passing Proposition 215 in 1996. Proposition 64 passed in California in 2016 and legalized recreational marijuana for adult use, and sales for adult consumers started in 2018. The revenue first covers regulations and research for anti-drug programs targeting kids, environmental programs, and public safety.


Colorado’s Amendment 20 passed in 2000, which legalized limited amounts of marijuana purchased by patients and caregivers. In 2012, recreational use of marijuana was available for adults 21+ when Amendment 64 passed. 10% goes to local government and 90% goes to the state government (15.56% general fund, 12.59% state public schools, 71.85% marijuana tax cash fund.)


In 2012, Connecticut started its medical marijuana program. This protected patients and caregivers from arrests and prosecution for possession of marijuana if they have a medical card that was obtained from a licensed dispensary. In June 2021, Governor Lamont signed bill S.B. 1201 into law, making recreational marijuana use for adults 21+ and made more regulations for cultivators, retails, manufacturers, and delivery services. Recreational sales began in July of 2021. From 2021-2023 all of the excise taxes are directed to the General Fund. Starting in 2023, 60% of excise taxes will go to the Social Equity and Innovation Program. In 2026, it will increase to 65% and, in 2028, the number will increase to 75%. The remainder of the taxes during those years will go to the General Fund.


In 2011, Delaware legalized medical marijuana when the “Delaware Medical Marijuana Act” was signed by the state governor. This protects patients from arrests from doctor-recommended use of marijuana. Delaware does not have an active recreational program. In 2021, two House committees approved HB 150, which would legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana for adults. The House floor vote was scheduled for June 2021 but was postponed and will be picked up again in 2022. 

District of Columbia D.C.

Our nation’s capital legalized the use of medicinal marijuana in 1998 with Initiative 59. Initiative 59 was overturned in 2009 due to a lack of regulations. A year later, provisions were made, and “The Legalization of Marijuana for Medical Treatment Amendment Act” was passed, allowing medical use of marijuana for patients. In 2014, D.C. legalized the use of recreational marijuana with Initiative 71. In March 2021, “The Comprehensive Cannabis Legalization and Regulation Act of 2021” was introduced by Phil Mendelson, the Chair of D.C. City Council which would provide more cannabis regulation in the city. Mayor Muriel Bowser introduced her proposal for cannabis regulation shortly after. You can read the differences between the bills here.


Amendment 2 was passed in 2016 and established a medical marijuana program in Florida. Legalizing medical marijuana created a plethora of jobs and licensing for dispensaries has done wonders for the economy. But the state didn’t get as much revenue as expected as there is no sales tax implemented on medical sales.


Hawaii also legalized the use of medical marijuana when the Hawaiian Governor signed into law Act 228. Hawaii has not passed a law regarding recreational marijuana use. Bills have been introduced several times to legalize recreational marijuana, including two in March 2021. All of the bills introduced have been shut down by Governor Ige.


Illinois passed the “Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Program Act” effectively legalizing medical marijuana. In 2019, Bill HB1438 was passed legalizing recreational marijuana use. General sales tax is applied along with a tax at the wholesale level of 7%. 25% of the revenue goes to the General Fund, 24% goes to the Illinois Recover, Reinvest, & Renew Program, 20% goes to mental health and substance abuse, 10% to pay state bills, 8% to the local government, and 2% goes to public education.


In June 2021, Governor John Bel Edwards signed a decriminalization bill HB 652 into law. Several legalization bills advanced from the Committee on Administration of Criminal Justice, but none passed the floor. In 2020, Louisiana passed bill HB 819, which allowed doctors to recommend medicinal cannabis to patients under certain qualifying conditions.


As the end of the decade was approaching, Maine was the last state to legalize medical marijuana use when Title 22 passed. While passed, there was no distribution mechanism in place for medical cardholders. In November 2016, Maine passed the “Marijuana Legalization Act,” which legalized recreational use for adults over 21. 12% of the marijuana tax revenue goes to the Adult Use Marijuana Public Health and Safety Fund the other 88% goes to the General Fund. 


HB 881 passed in 2014, which established regulations for consumption, possession, cultivation, and distribution for medical patients 18+. Several bills have been introduced in 2021 to legalize recreational marijuana and decriminalize marijuana but none have passed.


Massachusetts legalized medical marijuana in 2013 and provided medical treatment centers for patients. In 2016 Massachusetts legalized the recreational use of marijuana. Recreational customers pay an excise tax of 10% on top of the standard 6.25% tax. The revenue goes to the General Fund, the MA Bay Transportation Authority, and the School Building Authority. The excise taxes support the Alcoholism Administration and the Cannabis Control Commission.


Michigan passed the “Medical Marihuana Act” in 2008, legalized medical marijuana use, and in 2018 passed the “Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marihuana Act,” which legalized recreational use of marijuana for adults 21+. In the first two years of legalization, $20 million in revenue went to marijuana research for medicinal purposes. The rest of the revenue goes to cities, townships, villages, counties, the state’s School Aid Fund, and the Michigan Transportation Fund.


In 2014, then-Governor Mark Dayton signed legislation for a medical marijuana program but had strict regulations about who could possess it and how they could consume it. Throughout the years, regulations and qualifying conditions have expanded to allow more patients to access medicine. In May 2021, the Minnesota House of Representatives voted to legalize cannabis, but the Senate opposed the bill. The legislature will reconvene in 2022 and pick up where it left off. While there is some hope that the Senate will pass recreational marijuana use, the Senate Majority Lead, Paul Gazelka, is strongly opposed. 


In 2020, Mississippi legalized medical marijuana with an overwhelming number of voter support and established a medical program for patients with debilitating conditions. In March 2020, the Mississippi legislature approved a competing bill to Amendment 65, called 65A, which had far more restrictions than Amendment 65. Mississippians for Compassionate Care argued that 65A would not be a functional program or help patients. 65A was rejected by voters. 


Marijuana became decriminalized in Missouri in 2014 and four years later, medical marijuana was legalized. Taxes from marijuana revenue goes to the Missouri Veterans Health Care Fund. Missouri also allows out-of-state medical patients to obtain medicinal marijuana. Missourians are looking forward to 2022, as there is a chance of legalizing marijuana for adults.


Montana technically legalized medical marijuana use in 2011, but lawmakers made it nearly impossible for patients to obtain their medicine. In 2016, Initiative-182 was passed, which made it easier for patients to acquire their medicine. In 2020, Montana passed Initiative 190, legalizing recreational marijuana use, but their sales will not start until 2022.


Nevada legalized medical marijuana sales started in 2001 after two ballots passed in 1998 and 2000. In 2016 Nevada passed the “Initiative to Regulate and Tax Marijuana,” which allowed adults 21+ to purchase and consume recreational marijuana. Revenue from marijuana taxes goes to the state’s rainy day fund.

New Hampshire

New Hampshire legalized medical marijuana use for seriously ill residents in 2013, but legalization efforts for recreational use have been retained and pending a vote until 2022. 30% of the tax revenue goes to prevention and substance misuse programs the other 70% goes to the General Fund.

New Jersey

In early 2011, New Jersey’s governor signed S119, “New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act,” which allowed people to use medical marijuana for certain conditions. In 2020, voters in New Jersey approved the state legalizing recreational use of marijuana. 70% of sales revenue goes to social equity programs, grants, loans, reimbursements of expenses, and other financial assistance. The remaining 30% goes to operating the program. 

New Mexico

In 2007, New Mexico passed SB523, which legalized medical marijuana use in the state. As of June 2021, recreational marijuana use has been legalized in New Mexico, but sales won’t start until 2022. Once recreational sales start, New Mexico will no longer have sales tax for medical patients, but the tax rate for recreational customers will start at 12%. One-third of the tax revenue will go to the municipality where sales were made, another third will go to the county sales were made, and the last third will be distributed to community reinvestments.

New York

In 2014, New York legalized medical marijuana. In 2021, Governor Cuomo signed legislation S.854-A/A.128-A which legalized adult use of marijuana in New York. 40% of the marijuana tax revenue goes to community grant reinvestments, 20% goes to schools, and 40% goes to drug treatment facilities and public education. 

North Dakota

North Dakota became the 25th state to reduce jail time and fines for low-level marijuana possession and became a medical state in 2016. An initiative led by a group of legislators opposed a restrictive bill, the bill was defeated by the Senate. There is hope that in 2022, North Dakota will legalize adult use.


In 2016, Ohio passed HB 523, legalizing medical marijuana for patients with certain qualifying conditions. In 2020, Ohio cities voted to decriminalize cannabis for those who aren’t registered, medical patients. The medical program in Ohio is continually expanding, and cannabis activists are hopeful for a recreational law to be passed.


Oklahoma legalized medical marijuana when Oklahoma’s Medical Cannabis Initiative State Question 788 was swiftly passed in 2018. In 2020 a recreational marijuana bill was on the ballot but, COVID-19 changed the direction of the measure. A 2022 effort has been announced, but no major organization has backed up this effort. Despite COVID-19, Oklahoma’s program continues to thrive and is one of the largest in the country.


In 1998, Oregon passed Measure 67 that modified the state law to allow possession and use of medical marijuana. In 2014, Measure 91 was approved, which allowed the sale of recreational marijuana. 40% of the marijuana tax revenue goes to the state school fund, 20% goes to mental health, alcoholism, and drug service, 15% goes to the Oregon state police, and 5% goes to the Oregon Health Authority for drug treatment and prevention. The remaining funds go to cities and counties’ funds. 


In 2016, Governor Tom Wolf signed SB 3, which legalized medical marijuana in the state. In 2018, the state government made improvements to the original bill. In 2021, bipartisan senators Dan Laughlin (R) and Sharif Street (D) introduced a bill that would legalize recreational marijuana for adults 21+. The legislation hasn’t been introduced yet, but legalization is a priority in 2021. 

Rhode Island

In 2006, Rhode Island passed legislation to legalize marijuana for medical use. In 2021, a bill was introduced to make recreational marijuana legal. Rhode Island’s governor, Dan McKee, proposed legislation as part of his fiscal year 2022 budget bill. This bill would allow adults 21+ to use marijuana. Marijuana taxes are planned to be distributed to regulatory agencies, the General Fund, and cities and towns for extra revenue.

South Dakota

In 2021, Governor Kristi Noem, House Speaker Spencer Gosch, and legislative allies attempted to delay the implementation of Measure 26, which would effectively establish a medical marijuana program and start a recreational marijuana program. The measure was passed, but enactment is still pending.


Utah legalized medical marijuana in 2018. Revisions have been made since the bill was passed. In 2020, Governor Herbert signed SB 121 which, expanded qualifications for medical patients, removing criminal penalties, and dispensing flower in child-proof bottles.


Vermont passed S.76 “An Act Relating to the Medical Use of Marijuana,” in 2004, which allowed healthcare professionals the ability to recommend marijuana to their patients. In 2015, Vermont passed S.95, which legalized the use of recreational marijuana for adults. Bill S.54 states, “revenue from the sales . . . on retail sales of cannabis or cannabis products in this State shall be used to fund a grant program to start or expand afterschool and summer learning programs, with a focus on increasing access in underserved areas of the State.”


Virginia legalized medical marijuana in 2018 and recreational marijuana in 2021. The recreational law officially took effect in July 2021, but sales will not start until 2024. Taxes from marijuana sales are expected to go to pre-kindergarten programs, reinvestment grants for historically over-policed communities, and drug prevention and treatment programs.


Washington state legalized medical marijuana in 1998 with Initiative 692. While it was legal in the state, the qualifying conditions were for terminal or debilitating conditions and allowed patients to possess no more than a 60-day supply. Over the next several years, the “60-day supply” rule became more defined since the quantity amount a patient could possess was vague. In 2011 the state expanded the requirements and conditions for a medical card. In 2012 Washington became the first state to legalize the recreational use of marijuana by passing Initiative 502. Revenue from the taxes on marijuana goes to several programs, including the state health authority for a healthy youth survey, the University of Washington for marijuana-related educational programs, the state’s health professions account, and other state departments.

West Virginia

In 2017, West Virginia legalized medical marijuana, and sales for medical patients began in 2021. In 2019, Governor Justice proclaimed that he was “100% against recreational marijuana,” but his opinion has since changed, and his stance on recreational marijuana opposition has weakened. 

Nebraska and North Carolina have decriminalized marijuana but don’t have a medical or recreational program in place. Georgia, Kentucky, Iowa, Indiana, Texas, and Wisconsin have legalized CBD. Idaho, Kansas, Tennessee, Wyoming, and South Carolina are the only states that do not have legalization or decriminalization programs in place. 

What’s next for legalizing weed?

Medical and recreational marijuana use has been expanding rapidly throughout the United States and has been brought to the federal government several times over the past few years. In 2020, the House of Representatives approved a bill to federally legalize marijuana, the bill was struck down by the Senate. Press Secretary Jen Psaki reiterated President Biden’s stance on legalization. He doesn’t approve of recreational marijuana use but is in favor of decriminalizing, rescheduling, and expunging records, and legalizing medical marijuana, but has not made strides to make that happen. Several groups are actively fighting for the federal legalization of marijuana. You can read about them here and see the steps you can take to get involved. With the majority of the country legalizing marijuana, isn’t it time to take the step for federal legalization?