2012 marked a turning point in U.S. history: for the first time, a state (actually two states, Colorado and Washington) voted to ignore federal drug laws and legalize the adult consumption of cannabis by persons aged 21 or older, similar to alcohol. In the years since then, a host of other states have followed suit in what has become an inspiring exodus from Drug War-era policies and sentiments.
While legalization is spreading, however, the actual regulatory framework can vary dramatically from state to state. Every state with adult-use sales, for example, has mandatory third-party lab testing requirements before products can reach store shelves — but not every state actually allows for commercial cannabis sales.
The following is a brief run-down on each legalized state and how they have approached adult-use cannabis regulations.
California, the USA’s most populous state and largest economy, is a relative newcomer to adult-use cannabis despite being the first state to legalize medical cannabis back in 1996.
A successful 2016 voter initiative catapulted California into the post-prohibition landscape. Unfortunately, however, things have not gone entirely smoothly, so far. High tax rates have prevented licensed businesses from competing realistically with the unregulated market. A large quantity of unlicensed storefronts, coupled with an underfunded cannabis enforcement agency, has further complicated the issue.
- Possession/carry limit: 1 ounce of flower, 8 grams of concentrate
- Purchase limit: 1 ounce of flower, 8 grams of concentrate
- Home grow rules: 6 plants per household, only 3 flowering at a time.
Click here to learn more about the state of cannabis in California.
Illinois is the latest addition to the ranks of post-prohibition states.
On June 25, 2019, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed legislation approved by lawmakers earlier in the year that makes cannabis legal to possess and consume for adults 21+. The law also establishes a process to expunge the criminal records for nearly 800,000 cannabis possession convictions in the state.
Gov. Pritzker’s 2018 election campaign included a platform calling for legalization. Shortly after winning the governorship, he said he hoped Illinois would be the first Midwest state to begin legal, regulated cannabis sales. In order to do so, however, Illinois will have to move quickly to beat out nearby Michigan, whose march toward legal sales is already underway, albeit slow-moving.
NOTE: Illinois’ legalization law technically takes effect on January 1, 2020, so the following allowances do not apply until then.
- Possession/purchase limits:
- `For residents: 30 grams of flower, 500 mg of THC-infused edibles, 5 grams of concentrates
- For nonresidents: 15 grams of flower, 250 mg of THC-infused edibles, 2.5 grams of concentrates
- Home grow rules: homegrown cannabis is not allowed under Illinois’ adult-use cannabis law.
Follow this link to learn more about cannabis business, rules and regulations in Illinois!
Michigan became the first Midwest state to legalize adult-use cannabis in November 2018, but the roll-out of the Great Lake State’s cannabis infrastructure is expected to be a long and complicated regulatory process.
Current projections put Michigan’s adult-use market opening for business by 2020 at the earliest. As mentioned above, Illinois could attempt to beat Michigan to the punch of allowing adult-use sales after that state’s recent legalization milestone.
Despite the slow trod toward regulated sales, however, Michigan still boasts some of the most lenient possession and purchase limits in the country.
- Possession/carry limit: 2.5 ounces of flower (10 ounces at home) and 15 grams of concentrate.
- Purchase limit: Specific regulations are still pending.
- Home grow rules: 12 plants per household.
To check out more information about cannabis in Michigan, click here!
Washington state became the second state to legalize cannabis in 2014, about six months after Colorado, as a result of the same 2012 election as Colorado. Washington’s market, however, drew heavy criticism from the cannabis community and has been accused of being a cash-grab for lawmakers with an overly regulated and restrictive system.
Some activists have even labeled Washington’s market as “Prohibition 2.0,” though most recently officials there established a new law expunging some 69,000 minor cannabis convictions throughout the state.
- Possession/carry limit: 1 ounce
- Purchase limit: 1 ounce
- Home grow rules: Washington does not allow adults to cultivate homegrown cannabis.
Want more information? Click here to see all of our Washington cannabis news updates and more.
Massachusetts and Maine were the first east coast states to legalize, both via successful voter initiatives during the 2016 general election. In Massachusetts, the legalization language took effect almost immediately — less than a month after the successful vote, on December 16, 2016.
Dispensaries opened for adult-use purposes about two years later, on November 20, 2018, putting pressure on other New England states to consider enacting their own adult-use regulations and keep some of that cannabis tax revenue in-state.
- Possession/carry limit: 1 ounce of flower and 5 grams of concentrate in public; 10 ounces of flower at home.
- Purchase limits: 1 ounce of flower, 5 grams of concentrate
- Home grow rules: Adults can grow up to 6 cannabis plants at a time, 12 max per household.
Click here to see even more about the state of cannabis in Massachusetts.
Colorado is considered by many to be ground zero for cannabis freedom — it was the first state to enact its legalization language and has demonstrated from the start a successful model for building a state-legal cannabis market.
In fact, since Colorado’s historic Legalization Day on January 1, 2014, legislators from around the country and even the world have visited the state to see an example of a regulated cannabis industry in action.
- Possession/carry limit: 1 ounce of THC (including flower, concentrates, edibles, etc.)
- Purchase limits: 1 ounce of flower, 8 grams of concentrate, 800 mg of edibles
- Home grow rules: 6 plants per person, 12 per household; only half can be flowering at any given time.
To check out Colorado cannabis news updates and more, click here!
Oregon voted to legalize cannabis alongside Alaska in the 2014 general election. Oregon became the third state to officially end cannabis prohibition, however, beating out Alaska by several months.
Oregon’s adult-use cannabis business licensing was originally very inclusive, which led to hundreds of successful applications and, eventually, a grossly oversaturated marketplace. As a result, Oregon currently boasts on average the lowest regulated cannabis prices in the world. In fact, there is such a glut of cannabis products in Oregon that lawmakers recently passed legislation that would let cannabis growers export their excess products out-of-state to nearby state-legal markets — that is, if the plan receives federal approval.
- Possession/carry limit: 1 ounce of flower, 1 ounce of concentrates, 16 ounces of edibles, 72 ounces of liquid edibles.
- Purchase limit: 1 ounce of flower, 5 grams of concentrate
- Home grow rules: 2 plants per person, 4 plants per household.
Follow this link to make sure you’re keeping up to date on Oregon’s cannabis industry.
Nevada voted to legalize adult-use cannabis during the 2016 general election. Home to Las Vegas, the tourism capital of the USA, this victory was seen as especially significant for the industry.
Nevada lawmakers were anxious to get started, as well, and quickly enacted an Early Start program that had adult-use stores open within just six months of the state’s legalization vote. Interestingly enough, Nevada’s vote to legalize came just one year after the state’s medical cannabis dispensaries opened for business, making it one of the fastest transitions yet from medical to recreational.
- Possession/carry limit: 1 ounce, 3.5 grams of concentrate
- Purchase limit: 1 ounce, 3.5 grams of concentrate
- Home grow rules: Home grows are generally not allowed, and are only an option if you live 25 or more miles from the nearest licensed dispensary.
Click here to see all of our Nevada cannabis business and policy updates!
Maine also voted to legalize during the 2016 general election. Maine’s vote was significantly closer than nearby Massachusetts — so much so that the legalization victory declaration was delayed several days for vote counting.
Cannabis possession is currently legal in Maine but the system for adult-use sales and distribution hasn’t yet taken effect, due largely to delays instigated by former Republican Gov. Paul LePage. LePage’s latest regulation bill veto, however, was overturned by lawmakers and the tax-and-reg system is officially under development, with stores expected to open sometime in late 2019 or 2020.
- Possession/carry limit: 2.5 ounces (70 grams)
- Purchase limit: Currently not available, but eventually adults 21+ will be able to purchase up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis flower per transaction.
- Home grow: Up to 12 plants per adult, but only 3 can be flowering at a time.
Stay informed about the Maine cannabis marketplace — click here for more info!
Alaska is the largest U.S. state and was among the first states to move away from federal cannabis policies. Alaska voters chose legalization via a ballot initiative during the 2014 general election alongside Oregon, making them the third and fourth states to legalize.
Most recently, Alaska made headlines as the first state to establish regulations for the social use of cannabis — i.e. cannabis social clubs, or cannabis cafes. Some cities like Denver and San Francisco had already taken this step, but Alaska was the first to pass such regulations for the entire state.
- Possession/carry limit: 1 ounce of flower
- Purchase limit: 1 ounce
- Home grow rules: 6 plants per person, 12 plants per household; only half can be flowering at any time.
Click here to see more information about legal cannabis in Alaska.
It is currently legal for adults to grow, possess, and consume cannabis in Vermont; you cannot, however, buy or sell any part of the plant (unless you are a medical patient/caregiver, but that’s a different article). This is thanks to Vermont’s unique position as the first (and currently only) state to end cannabis prohibition without establishing a taxed-and-regulated system for its distribution.
Vermont also made history as the first state to defy federal drug laws thanks to efforts by lawmakers, not just voters. In Vermont, where the political system does not utilize a citizen ballot initiative process, cannabis legalization was so popular among voters that lawmakers were convinced to take action.
- Possession/carry limit: 1 ounce of flower.
- Home grow rules: 6 plants per household (2 flowering, 4 immature).
To keep up to date on the cannabis happenings in Vermont, click here!
While not technically a state, The District of Columbia gets a special mention for being an early-mover in the push to reform cruel cannabis laws — never mind that Congress initially blocked the District’s attempts to commercialize the plant, trampling on the rights of citizens living there. Thankfully, it looks like Washington D.C. may get to finally move forward on a regulated cannabis market in 2020.
- Possession/carry limit: 2 ounces of flower
- Home grow rules: 6 plants per household (3 flowering, 3 immature).
Big changes are coming to Washington DC — click here to stay up to date on the District’s latest cannabis news and happenings.