Recreational marijuana is legal in 19 states, Washington, D.C., and Guam.
Marijuana is weighed at a dispensary in Los Angeles in 2018
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.
Eighteen other states, Washington, D.C., and Guam would go on to legalize the drug in the next 10 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. The House passed a marijuana decriminalization bill on April 1, 2022 and months later, several senators – including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer – introduced the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, which would federally decriminalize weed, as reported by Marijuana Moment. The bill’s future in the Senate was uncertain.
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 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:
- Washington, D.C.
- New Jersey
- New York
- New Mexico
- Rhode Island