States Where Pot Is Legal

Do the pros of legalization outweigh the cons?

Protesters denouce raids on marijuana clinics

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U.S. federal law classifies marijuana as an illegal Schedule 1 drug. That puts it into the same class as heroin, LSD, and ecstasy, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Many people want it reclassified to a Schedule II drug, defined as a drug with a high potential for abuse, such as Ritalin or oxycodone. While the DEA has resisted that notion, it has agreed to support additional research on using marijuana as treatment for various diseases.

The Food and Drug Administration has approved Epidiolex—a drug comprised of an active ingredient from marijuana—to treat seizures from two rare forms of epilepsy. It has also approved two man-made medicines based on the ingredients in marijuana, dronabinol and nabilone, which treat nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy.

In the following states, voters approved the use of marijuana despite federal prohibition. Each state has different laws, regulations, and policies, with some legalizing marijuana for medical use only, and others allowing recreational use as well.

In total, following results from the 2020 election, 36 states, three territories, and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana.

States Where Pot Is Legal

Fifteen states have legalized marijuana for both recreational and medical use. In addition, the District of Columbia and three territories—Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands—have also approved use.

States impose three types of marijuana taxes using three levels of measurement: as a percentage of price, based on weight, or based on the drug's level of potency. While some states use just one type of tax method, some use a combination of all three. Only states with an established, regulated market have successfully received taxes. The table below shows the state and local taxes collected thus far in these markets.

 State Legalization Date  2019 Revenue
Alaska 2014 $28.4M
Arizona 2020  
California 2016 $629.2M
Colorado 2012 $346.2M
Illinois 2019  
Maine 2016  
Massachusetts 2016 $89 M
Michigan 2018 $1.2M
Montana 2020  
Nevada 2016 $164.8M
New Jersey 2020  
Oregon 2014 $133.9M
South Dakota 2020  
Vermont 2018  
Washington 2012 $512.5M

States Where Only Medical Marijuana Is Legal

In addition to the 15 states above, an additional 21 states have legalized marijuana for medical use only. Research supports its effectiveness to reduce chronic pain and nausea, and produce appetite stimulation. Some research suggests that marijuana may help to reduce anxiety, create euphoria, and also relieve symptoms of HIV/AIDS, cancer, glaucoma, and multiple sclerosis.

States with medical marijuana laws usually have a patient registry to protect users against arrest. Regulations vary by state, as some states govern growers and dispensaries and others do not.

  1. Arkansas
  2. Connecticut
  3. Delaware
  4. Florida
  5. Hawaii
  6. Louisiana
  7. Maryland
  8. Minnesota
  9. Mississippi
  10. Missouri
  11. New Hampshire
  12. New Mexico
  13. New York
  14. North Dakota
  15. Ohio
  16. Oklahoma
  17. Pennsylvania
  18. Rhode Island
  19. Utah
  20. Virginia
  21. West Virginia

Pros and Cons of Marijuana Legalization

  • Creates higher revenue for states

  • Creates sales and distribution jobs

  • Increases the ability for research in the public health industry

  • Additional costs, including regulation, licensing, and administration costs to monitor the sector

  • Creates public safety and health concerns

  • Discourages investors because it is still illegal on the federal level

Pros Explained

The legalization of marijuana creates higher revenue for states. Taxes on cannabis raised more than $1.9 billion in 2019, a jump of 33% compared to the previous year, according to research from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. Colorado, for example, used the first $40 million it received in taxes on retail marijuana in fiscal year 2017-2018 to aid the state's public school system. Colorado also spends these funds on law enforcement, substance abuse programs, and health education.

Another advantage of legalization is job creation in marijuana nurseries and dispensaries. Legal cannabis has created 211,000 full-time jobs in the U.S. as of 2019, according to a report from Leafly, a digital information hub focused on all things cannabis. Because cannabis is not federally legal, the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not calculate job growth within this sector. In Colorado, direct employment in the marijuana sector has contributed 5.4% of job gains since legalization in January 2014.

In recent years, a societal interest in cannabidoil (CBD)—a component of the marijuana leaf—has grown. As marijuana becomes legal in the medical space within some states, there is more research available on what components of the plant can do. Patients and users of CBD have found relief from insomnia, anxiety, and pain, as well as more serious relief from life-threatening conditions like epilepsy.

Cons Explained

Marijuana legalization creates public safety and health concerns. After legalization, marijuana usage increased and as a result, hospitalization related to the drug’s use also rose. One reason why is because the strength of the active ingredients in marijuana products isn’t regulated, so users can get widely different dosages from batch to batch, depending on the product. Another is that the potency of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, has been increasing in recent decades.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse considers marijuana an addictive drug. Studies show that 30% of those who use the drug are addicted, which amounted to a total of 4 million people in 2015. This is especially true for teens. In Colorado, reported marijuana use (in a month) among 18 to 25 year olds increased from 21% in 2006 to 31% in 2014, the year the drug was legalized in the state. Reported usage among adults also increased, rising 7% in the same time period.

The biggest disadvantage for states is that marijuana is still illegal on the federal level, which discourages investors. Companies can’t take advantage of initial public offerings to get more cash to grow and they can’t nationalize, thereby benefiting from economies of scale.

Key Takeaways

  • Thirty-six states in the United States have legalized marijuana for medicinal use. Of those, 15 states also allow recreational use
  • The legalization of marijuana has increased revenue for states and created jobs
  • States must pay for drug monitoring, licensing, and education
  • Legalization has a mixed impact on public safety