Marijuana Legalization

Marijuana legalization is sweeping the country. It has already spread to nine states and the nation’s capital, and could be on its way to other places as well.

So what exactly is marijuana legalization? How does it differ from other avenues of cannabis reform? How do states approach the cannabis issue? And what about the feds?

Terminology is important, although it isn’t always used correctly. The distinctions between the different levels of marijuana reform are critical, as activities that pass legal scrutiny in one place may lead to fines or even jail time in another.

The legalization of marijuana means that, as long as you abide by the state-specific cannabis laws, you will not get arrested, fined or convicted for the use, possession and cultivation of marijuana. Legalization also allows a retail market to be established where people can purchase cannabis. Each state has different laws regarding the specifics of marijuana legalization, so make sure you are in the know.

Where Is Marijuana Legal?

Cannabis is currently fully legal in ten places in the United States: Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, Washington State, and Washington, D.C.

Voters made marijuana legal in Colorado and Washington State in 2012, the first states in the nation to implement such laws, while Alaskans and Oregonians voted to legalize in 2014. The District of Columbia passed a legalization proposal in the same election, and officials there have lifted all penalties for simple possession, though Congress could still try to interfere with that law. California, Nevada, Maine, and Massachusetts all voted to legalize the recreational use of marijuana at the ballot in 2016.


It is legal for adults 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana in Colorado, and it can be purchased from dispensaries across the state. What’s more, the same purchase and possession rules apply to visitors, meaning that even if you are not a Colorado resident, you can still enjoy the state’s legal marijuana. Residents are permitted to grow six plants at home, with no more than three mature at any one time.


Adults aged 21 and older are allowed to possess up to an ounce of marijuana for personal use. Cannabis is distributed from licensed retail stores, although many municipalities have banned or put moratoriums on the sale of the drug. It remains illegal for adults to cultivate marijuana at home, unless the grower is a qualified medical marijuana patient.


Adults are legally permitted to use cannabis for recreation in Oregon. Marijuana can be purchased from medical and recreational dispensaries across the state. Oregonians are permitted to carry up to one ounce in public, and possess up to eight ounces at home. Adults may cultivate up to four plants at home.


Marijuana was made legal for recreational use by voters in Alaska in 2014, and the first retail stores opened late 2016.  But some towns in the state are more welcoming to reform than others; towns including Ketchikan, Soldotna, and Palmer have already banned marijuana sale and cultivation in their localities.

District of Columbia

In the nation’s capital, sale of marijuana falls into an unsettled legal gray area. Marijuana use, possession and cultivation have been legalized in the District, but there is not currently a retail market for the drug. That means the only way to get hold of cannabis is to grow your own at home – you’re allowed to grow up to six plants, with no more than three mature at one time.


With MMJ legal in the state since 1996, which until recently was governed by a largely unregulated system, California has one of the strongest marijuana cultures in the world. The state legalized recreational use of the drug, through Proposition 64 (also known as the AUMA), at the ballot in 2016. Adults in the state are permitted to possess an ounce of cannabis and grow up to six plants at home.


Maine legalized marijuana at the ballot in 2016. The new law allows adults aged 21 and older to possess and cultivate cannabis for recreation.  Adults can legally possess two and a half ounces of marijuana and five grams of concentrates, and can cultivate up to three plants at home.


Marijuana became legal in Massachusetts when 54 percent of voters approved Question 4 at the ballot. The new law allows adults not participating in the state’s medical marijuana program to legally possess up to one ounce of flower and/or five grams of concentrates, to cultivate up to six plants at home, and to possess all the harvest from those plants.


Nevada’s marijuana legalization measure was approved by 55 percent of voters in 2016. Question 2 made it legal for adults to legally possess an ounce of marijuana, and to legally cultivate up to six plants at home (and to possess all the harvest from those plants.)  Possession of marijuana concentrates is also legal, and the possession limit is 3.5 grams.


Vermont’s marijuana laws allow adults aged 21 and older to legally possess up to an ounce of marijuana, and to cultivate up to six plants at home (with no more than two mature at any one time.) Those cultivating at home may also possess the total quantity from their harvest.

How to Get Legal Marijuana?

How you get your hands on marijuana for recreational depends on what state you’re in. In most states with legal cannabis, residents are legally permitted to cultivate their own cannabis at home. There are varying conditions that growers must meet, such as keeping a limit on the number of mature plants, and keeping plants out of public view.

The most popular method of obtaining recreational marijuana is to purchase it from a dispensary. Adults over 21 may legally purchase marijuana for recreation at retail stores in states including Alaska, Colorado, Washington, and Oregon, while there are no plans for such stores in the District of Columbia, where Congress has blocked any legal sale of cannabis for recreational use.

In Colorado, Oregon, and Washington, a variety of stores sell marijuana for medicine, recreation, or both. Most stores have websites that indicate what type of customers they serve. It is also legal to gift small amounts of cannabis, provided nothing else of value changes hands.

What Are the Rules for Growing Marijuana?

It is legal to grow marijuana plants for recreational use in California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Maine, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, Alaska, and the District of Columbia. Of the jurisdictions where cannabis is legal for recreational use, only Washington State bans home grows.

Colorado allows adult residents to grow up to six plants on private property, though only three of them may be mature at the same time. The same is true in Alaska, while adults in Oregon may grow up to four plants and District of Columbia residents up to six.

What States Are Likely to Legalize Next?

More states are expected to legalize over the next few years. New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Michigan are all possible battlegrounds for reform.

But you don’t have to be legal to enjoy weed in peace. Marijuana has been somewhat decriminalized in many other states including Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, Maryland, and Connecticut.

Simple possession in any of these states is punished with a civil fine rather than jail time. The fines vary in size, but they’re typically no more than a few hundred dollars – a hefty sum but no worse than the average speeding ticket.

Legalization vs. Decriminalization

Journalists often use the terms “legalization” and “decriminalization” interchangeably. Technically they’re right, since both approaches remove criminal penalties.

True legalization means that a state allows a full legal marijuana industry where adults can buy, possess, and use the drug freely. Laws against public consumption and high driving still apply, but enforcement is typically lighter in these states.

But there are two big practical differences. For one thing, states that decriminalize still penalize those caught carrying marijuana, even if only with small fines. For another, these states don’t allow any kind of legal retail market for the drug. Growing, processing, shipping, or selling weed can be a felony in many of these places.

In other words, “decriminalization” means you can’t go to jail for possession, but you can go to jail for selling, making, or transporting marijuana.

Medical marijuana, on the other hand, is a legal system in which patients can get prescriptions for weed to treat their disorders. In most of these states, access is limited to patients who suffer from at least one of a short list of severe medical problems that can be alleviated with pot.

These disorders can include glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, seizures, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), HIV/AIDS, cancer and nausea, among others. These laws don’t cover most other conditions, though that’s likely to change in coming years.

MMJ Paves the Way for Full Legalization

It also can’t hurt to live in a state where medical cannabis is allowed. Recreational use and possession aren’t necessarily legal in these places, nor is retail sale, but it’s pretty easy to get away with it in most states that permit MMJ.

Nearly all states in the US have allow some degree of medical marijuana, even if that’s non-intoxicating CBD oil. California is best known for its program, probably the most liberal of its kind.

Other places tend to have tighter controls on medical pot; scoring MMJ in New Jersey without a real health condition is a hopeless task for most patients. Outside California, Hawaii may be the best place to use medicinal weed for recreational purposes.

Wherever you choose to smoke your dope, there are rules unique to every location. Legal possession limits, for example, are lower in Washington State and Oregon than they are in Alaska and Oregon. So choose wisely and above all, know the law before you light up.