The last few years have seen dramatic changes in the way North America treats cannabis. Acceptance for legalization is at an all time high, and the trend of recreational, adult-use marijuana being approved doesn’t appear to be going anywhere.
With that said, the legal discrepancies between jurisdictions can often make it difficult for both observers and users to keep track of what’s going on. This is certainly true on a province-by-province basis in Canada (underscored by Quebec’s recent raising of the consumption age).
But it’s especially true in the US, where cannabis is still technically a Schedule 1 drug with no federal oversight.
Here’s everything you need to know, on a state-by-state level, about recreational cannabis laws in America.
As one of the first states to fully legalize, residents (and as of 2016 tourists) of Colorado over the age of 21 are allowed to purchase and possess up to 28 grams of cannabis at any given time. They’re also allowed to grow up to 6 plants for personal use.
While use on private property and establishments is legal in Colorado, all public use is prohibited, as is use on any federal land such as a national park. Private sales are legal, and all businesses wishing to sell cannabis flower and other THC-containing products (edibles, concentrates and topicals) must obtain a state-issued license.
Colorado has also introduced strict packaging and sale requirements. Retail establishments can only operate between the hours of 8:00am and midnight, and all products must come in child-resistant packages with the THC logo clearly marked.
In November 2013, a Colorado ballot initiative was passed adding a 15 percent excise tax to all wholesale sales, as well as a 10 percent sales tax.
Washington fully legalized recreational pot in 2012. The industry is regulated by the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board, which issues licenses for growers, processors and retailers. Vertical integration is effectively banned in the state, as retailers are prohibited from obtaining growth and processing licenses.
As one of the most long standing and well-established cannabis markets in the country, many of Washington’s laws are quite similar to those in Colorado – residents and tourists aged 21 and up can purchase up to 28 grams of flower, edibles, concentrates and topicals are all fully legal, public consumption is banned and strict packaging rules apply (Washington has, however, banned cultivation for personal use).
Legalized in 2014 by ballot measure (Alaska Measure 2), Alaska allows for the possession of up to 28 grams of flower and the cultivation of 6 plants for personal use. Public use is prohibited, as is transporting cannabis both out of state and on Alaska Ferries. The state makes use of private retail sales through regulated stores.
While Alaska has banned public consumption, it is unique in that it’s the first state to approve and issue licenses for on-site consumption, allowing customers to use cannabis in the same dispensaries they bought them in.
With the passing of Oregon Ballot Measure 91, possession of up to 226 grams of cannabis in-home and 28 grams in public is legal in the state. Oregon also allows residents to grow up to 4 plants for personal use, and like most legal states, bans public use.
Private retail sales are legal in Oregon, with the Oregon Liquor Control Commission issuing licenses for production and processing, as well as wholesale and retail (vertical integration is permitted in Oregon, and there is no restrictions on businesses holding all four types of license).
As the first US state to legalize medical marijuana back in 1996, full legalization in 2016 combined with its population of over 39 million has made California the largest cannabis market in the world. Possession of up to 28 grams and the cultivation of up to six plants is legal, and private sales and licensing of cannabis businesses began in 2018 under the regulation of the Bureau of Cannabis Control.
Like most states, public consumption and use on federal land is illegal in California. Edibles and infused-products are legal in the state, however, there are regulations surrounding THC content. California is unique in that it’s the only state with laws effectively legalizing cannabis delivery services across the entire jurisdiction.
Legalized via ballot initiative in 2016 with laws having gone into effect in January of 2017, Nevada allows possession of up to 28 grams. Cultivation for personal use however is banned unless you live more than 25 miles from a cannabis retailer.
Public consumption is illegal, however, there have been efforts by local governments to push for on-site consumption businesses.
Cannabis in Nevada is subject to a 15 percent excise tax for wholesale sales and 10 percent for retail, and in 2019 the state set a record for collecting over $100 million in tax payments from the industry.
Although recreational cannabis has been legal in Maine since 2016, the city of Portland voted to legalize back in 2013. Possession of up to 70 grams is legal, along with the cultivation of up to three “mature” and 12 “immature” plants. Public consumption is illegal.
Although cannabis was legalized via ballot initiative, the state’s Marijuana Legalization Act has been continuously delayed by Governor Paul LePage. The governor vetoed a bill establishing recreational cannabis sales, however, the veto was overturned by Maine’s legislature last year. The state is currently still waiting to see retail cannabis sales be implemented, however, officials are hoping to move forward with them in 2020.
Legalized via ballot initiative in 2016, possession of up to 28 grams of cannabis in public and 280 grams in home is legal (although any amount greater than 28 grams must be locked up). Growing up to six plants per household is allowed, and up to 12 is permitted if there’s more than one adult living there. Public consumption and use on federal land is illegal.
After some delay, recreational cannabis retail took effect in the state towards the end of 2018, with sales reaching $140 million in June of this year.
Vermont, Michigan and Illinois
In July 2018, Vermont officially made it legal to possess up to 28 grams of cannabis and to cultivate up to 2 plants, removing all state penalties. Michigan followed in November of 2018, approving possession of up to 70 grams in public, 280 grams in home and the growth of 12 plants. And in 2019, Illinois became the first state to legalize through its state legislature rather than by ballot initiative, allowing possession of up to 28 grams (cultivation for recreational use is still illegal).
However, as newcomers to the legalization game, these three states (along with Maine) have yet to implement a retail system, with sales expected to start in 2020 in Illinois and Michigan and in 2021 in Vermont.