Earlier today, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation legalizing recreational cannabis in the Empire state. That brings the number of states where recreational use is permitted to 16; cannabis (as opposed to THC-free CBD) is still wholly illegal in 14 states. Every other state falls somewhere in the middle. Even as Americans grow more divided politically, cannabis continues to gain ground with every election cycle—and even in-between—as public support grows, having reached a high of nearly 70 percent according to a 2020 Gallup poll.
Of course, weed is also still illegal at the federal level. It’s classified as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act, putting it in the same category as heroin and other drugs considered to have “no medical use” and a high potential for abuse and dependence. Though efforts are underway to change the classification, for now, state laws simply allow exemptions for certain uses.
Here’s a rundown of where weed is legal for recreational and medical use (and where it isn’t).
States that legalized weed during and after the November 2020 election
In addition to New York, which legalized cannabis via the legislative process in March 2021, five states had marijuana measures on the ballot in the 2020 election—and all five approved weed by a solid margin.
- Arizona: Prop 207 legalized marijuana growth, possession, and sales for those over 21. It will also expunge some past marijuana-related criminal offenses. Arizonans will be allowed to grow and possess limited amounts of weed after Nov. 30, and the state expects to begin sales by April 20, 2021.
- Mississippi: Initiative 65 launches a medical marijuana program in Mississippi for 22 health conditions. The law takes effect in August 2021.
- Montana: While Montana already allowed medical marijuana, Initiative 190 legalized possession, recreational use, and sales to adults over 21. It also permits those convicted of weed-related crimes to apply for resentencing or expungement. Most of the measure will take effect on Oct. 1, 2021. The initiative has overwhelming support, but not all news outlets consider it final as of this writing.
- New Jersey: Question 1 legalized recreational weed for adults 21 and older, and New Jersey’s existing medical marijuana dispensaries will be allowed to sell to the general public as soon as lawmakers pass a bill covering regulations. Implementation won’t be immediate, but state senators have said they expect to move quickly.
- New York: In contrast to the other states to recently legalize cannabis, New York went the legislative route rather than appealing to voters, hammering out new laws that dictate how cannabis will be taxed, where that revenue will go, and how past criminal offenses will be handled. While it will take some time for the state to figure out how to administer the new laws, upon the bill’s signing it became legal for New York residents to possess up to 3 ounces of cannabis for personal use.
- South Dakota: South Dakota passed two ballot measures—one establishing a medical marijuana program and the other legalizing weed possession, use, transport, and distribution for all adults. The latter, Amendment A, will take effect on July 1, 2021, though it could take longer to license dispensaries. The measure does not permit people to grow weed at home if there is a dispensary in their district.
States that have legalized recreational marijuana
In 16 states, including 2020 and 2021‘s new additions, weed is treated like alcohol—it’s legal for adults (21 and over) to purchase and is regulated and taxed by the government. The specifics of what you can purchase and possess (and where) vary a bit by state. These states also have medical marijuana.
- New Jersey
- New York
- South Dakota
Recreational weed is also legal in Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.
Areas that have legal weed but no sales
In the District of Columbia, it’s legal to possess and grow limited amounts of weed, but there are no commercial sales outside of medical marijuana from a limited number of licensed dispensaries.
States that have medical cannabis laws
A number of states have legalized medical marijuana but do not allow broader recreational use.
- New Hampshire*
- New Mexico*
- North Dakota*
- Puerto Rico
- Rhode Island*
- West Virginia
*According to the Marijuana Policy Project, these states have also decriminalized marijuana, reducing or removing jail time for possession of limited amounts of weed.
States that have decriminalized weed
Nebraska and North Carolina have laws that decriminalize marijuana to a degree, meaning penalties for first-time possession of small amounts of weed are reduced. Both have a suspended sentence for a first offense—Nebraska imposes a fine and a possible drug education course. Medical marijuana legislation has failed in both states.
States that have, well, (almost) nothing
The remaining states do not permit broad medical or recreational marijuana—nor is weed decriminalized—though all except for Idaho allow access to low-THC products containing CBD for medical use.
- South Carolina
An earlier version of this story included a graphic with errors. Washington and Vermont were incorrectly listed as states with legal medical marijuana rather than legal recreational use. Virginia was incorrectly categorized as having no medical marijuana program, but its first dispensaries opened in 2020. This article was update March 31, 2021 to reflect New York’s passage of legal cannabis.