With an entirely new decade before us (and already 1/5 of the way through this new century!), it is inspiring and encouraging to see so many of America’s states united in their belief that the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes (with 11 states also endorsing recreational use) is not only healthy but a patriotic method of supporting local and state economies. This is not just some pie-in-the-sky puffery to calm the cannabis naysayers, but is based on real and projected numbers: US cannabis retail sales for 2019 cracked $11 billion while the 2020 projection may hit as high as $19 billion!
Clearly, cannabis is here to stay, with a majority of states on board in one form or another. We are extremely grateful for the pioneer states who forged a path for legislation, giving other states models from which to form their own cannabis laws. This makes the start of 2020 a perfect time to get current with the state laws concerning cannabis, both of the recreational and medical variety.
State Cannabis Laws
Let’s start with a summary of each state’s cannabis status as of January 1, 2020, using three classifications for state statuses concerning cannabis:
- fully legal means legal for both medicinal and recreational reasons
- medically legal applies to states that only allow cannabis to be sold for medicinal uses
- illegal to possess or sell are states we tag the badlands (or sad lands … or mad lands … you get the idea).
We’ll also note the following:
- if the state limits the amount of THC acceptable for production
- if it is decriminalized (fines and penalties instead of prison time)
- if there are any felonious laws still on the books concerning cannabis (not applicable to fully legal states).
While Alabama claims to be a medically legal state, we classify it as barely medically legal and actually a state where it is illegal to possess or sell cannabis. Only in the unusual situation of children suffering clinically-proven seizures can non-psychoactive CBD oil (i.e., no THC) for medical use be obtained. Any possession of cannabis is a felony and is consequently still criminalized. For all intents and purposes, Alabama is a severely restrictive state when it comes to cannabis use and possession. Clearly a badlands state, pretending otherwise.
Alaska passes with flying colors, becoming a fully legal state in 2014 (medically legal since 1998). In this way, the state of The Last Frontier was one of the first frontiers to recognize the value of cannabis, both medically and economically. Go Alaska!
In 2016, Arizona came close to becoming fully legal (losing with 48.7% of the vote), but retains its medically legal status (since 2010). The patient must suffer from a list of debilitating medical conditions as determined by law. On the darker side, possession remains a felony so it is clearly criminalized. Arizona stalled in 2016 when it had the chance to step up and serve their citizens and economy; maybe next time?
Another barely medically legal state, Arkansas just opened their doors for medical cannabis in 2016. Their medical cannabis laws are still quite prohibitive, it is still criminalized, and possession can lead to a felony conviction. While many patients signed up and received their medical cards, the paucity of dispensaries in the state make it almost impossible to fulfill prescription needs. Come on, Arkansas, step up and really get in the game!
This state is the pioneer of any form of legalization when it legalized medical cannabis in 1996, two years before any other state passed similar legislation. However, in 2016 it went fully legal in every sense of the term: decriminalized, no felony laws on the books concerning cannabis, and no limits on THC inclusion. California, thank you for opening the first door to legalization; that’s California Dreamin’ at its best!
One of the first two states to go fully legal in 2012, Colorado has benefited tremendously by legalizing cannabis (medical cannabis was legalized in 2000), earning the status of a cannabis tourist state. Decriminalized, no felonious laws ready to strike, and no THC limits make Colorado a true cannabis playground and model for the remainder of the nation. Kudos to Colorado for being one of the first states to embrace full legality and encouraging other states to make the same move!
A medically legal state since 2012, Connecticut is still relatively new to the cannabis market but is already making strides in the right direction. While possessing large quantities may earn a felony conviction, it is easy to acquire a medical card, thanks to their liberal definition of debilitating medical conditions. There are already hints of full legalization soon, so keep an eye on Connecticut and way to go with the positive and progressive approach to accepting cannabis!
Another medically legal state, Delaware opened their program in 2011. Also decriminalized, you have to work hard to earn a felony arrest because you need to require possession of 50 pounds or more! Their qualifying medical conditions are not as liberal as states like Connecticut, but there is already serious talk of full legalization in 2020. For a latecomer in the game, you are sprinting to the finish line in good time, so keep up the good work Delaware!
While sporting a medically legal designation, Florida still has very strict laws in place against cannabis. For instance, possession of more than 20 grams (less than an ounce!) still earns a felony charge and their medical conditions are more limited than most states. While technically decriminalized, it’s too easy to slip over the 20 gram limit and be considered a felon. Nice try, Florida, but you have a lot more work ahead of you!
Another state trying a progressive stance with a heavily conservative bias against cannabis, Georgia is another badlands state we recommend you avoid if you can. The state’s medically legal status (legislation just passed in 2019) is super-restrictive: possessing just one ounce is a felony, and only CBD oil containing 5% or less THC content is acceptable. A few large cities, like Atlanta, have decriminalized cannabis, but let’s get real here; Georgia, you won’t be on anybody’s mind until you get current with the times!
The island state of Hawaii also takes a medically legal position (since 2000) on cannabis, where it is decriminalized and felony charges only apply to possession of quantities over a pound. There are currently 8 dispensaries in the states, with a rather limited list of qualifying medical conditions. Hawaii is making progress, but their easy-going lifestyle has not put them in any hurry to reach full legalization. Hawaii, we love your beaches and weather, but step it up a notch and make your state a true all-around paradise with full legalization!
No need to spend time on or in Idaho, as it is completely illegal to possess or sell cannabis. No decriminalization and a felony charge which applies for possessing more than 3 ounces makes Idaho a true and unfiltered badlands! Hey Idaho, grow more than potatoes, will ya?!?
The citizens of Illinois celebrated the opening of this new decade by making cannabis fully legal on January 1, 2020 (since 2013, medical cannabis has been approved). By also decriminalizing cannabis, eliminating any cannabis-related felonies, and with no limits on THC, we applaud Illinois for taking the positive and economically beneficial stance towards cannabis and its users. It’s no longer just the breeze from the Windy City wafting through this state any more!
Another state posing as progressive with their medically legal cannabis program in Indiana, we find yet another barely medically legal cannabis state posturing as something more than that. Cannabis is not decriminalized, possession is a felony, and the only product that can be purchased and used is CBD oil containing 0.3% of THC. Hey Indiana, start your engines and get on track to catch up with the rest of America!
Another badlands state, Iowa has deemed cannabis to be medically legal but only for a limited number of medical conditions. It has not been decriminalized, possession is a felony, and use is limited to CBD oil with less than 3% THC. Iowa may know its corn but they need to get hip with cannabis too; it pays much better!
The state of Kansas is another badlands spot masquerading as progressive; it too has medically legal cannabis (passed in 2018), but you can’t get any weaker regulations than what you find there. Upon its passage in 2018, the law limited use to CBD products containing 0% THC, which is nearly impossible since most CDB oils contain trace amounts of THC; plus, the law didn’t define how to distribute the medicine. It is still criminalized and possession is usually a felonious offense. Hey Dorothy, Toto, and everyone else: you don’t want to be in Kansas anymore!
Besides an interesting clinical study performed the University of Kentucky that required approving CBD oil for epilepsy treatment, in Kentucky it is still illegal to possess or sell cannabis and almost always carries a felony charge for possession, distribution, and use. All eyes are on House Bill 136, the medical cannabis proposal that passed the House Judiciary Committee by a vote of 16 to 1. If passed, it is still very restrictive, as it only allows CBD capsules, pills, and topical products. For now, Kentucky remains another badlands state that lost its Daniel Boone pioneering spirit, so it will need more persistent pestering to get with the times!
Yet again we have a state touting a medically legal cannabis position while not really supporting such a cause. The medical cannabis program crafted by Louisiana only has two authorized cultivators and 9 dispensaries in the entire state. Otherwise, cannabis is still criminalized (New Orleans is working on decriminalization) and carries felony charges for possession, distribution, or use. The Pelican State is more like an albatross when it comes to sensible and positive cannabis legislation; another state requiring more prodding into the 21st century!
In 2016, Maine wisely passed legislation making it fully legal to use cannabis both for medical and recreational reasons. Full criminalized, no felony charges related to cannabis, and no THC restrictions puts this state in line with other progressive state leaders. This is the Maine you want to remember … and visit!
While still only medically legal in Maryland (since 2014), cannabis is decriminalized and has no felonies against the plant. Their medical cannabis program has an approved list of 9 medical conditions, the last of which is rather a catchall condition defined as “severe and for which other treatments have been ineffective” making it accessible for most patients. While Maryland is called the Free State, it could do with a bit more freedom, so we’re keeping our eye on them!
Even though it wasn’t until 2012 that Massachusetts legalized cannabis for medical purposes, just four years later, in 2016, that shifted to becoming fully legal (although it wasn’t until 2018 before the first sales of recreational cannabis). Along with the top legal status, it is also decriminalized and no possible felony charges can apply to cannabis products or use; in other words, good and sensible cannabis legislation. It may be called the Pilgrim State, but this is a whole new generation of happy pilgrims; you rock Massachusetts!
Since 2018, Michigan has enjoyed fully legal status (having previously passed medical cannabis laws in 2008) but are still awaiting the opening of dispensaries, expected this year; while some municipalities have opted out of allowing dispensaries, that increases the economic opportunities for the remaining participants. Decriminalized, no felony possibility, and no THC restrictions makes Michigan a Great Lakes State with great cannabis laws. Our hats are off to Michigan, another visionary state!
They’re trying, but Minnesota needs to make some headway in their current medically legal cannabis program (since 2014); although it is decriminalized, there are no THC restrictions, and no felony charges apply to cannabis. Their extensive regulations and qualifying medical conditions lean towards the reserved side of the spectrum; only liquid, pills, or vaporized forms are approved (no smoking allowed). It would be nice to see the Bread and Butter State add some herbs to their table of plenty; we’ll keep pushing for such an improvement!
While Mississippi is one more barely medically legal state (since 2017), it has decriminalized possession of small amounts and no felonious offenses apply to cannabis; however, their medical cannabis laws limit use to CBD with less than 0.5% THC content and is only available to those suffering from epilepsy. There are current proposals to legalize cannabis for both recreational and medical reasons, and even though it garnered enough signatures, it continues stalling in legislative sessions. Time for the politicians of Mississippi, the Hospitality State, to improve their hospitality skills and do the bidding of their citizens!
In 2018, Missouri finally made cannabis medically legal for its citizenry, and it really did it right. Cannabis is decriminalized, no felony charges are associated with it, and there are no limits on THC content. Even better is their very broad definition of qualifying medical conditions, including the right of the physician to prescribe cannabis instead of opioids, one of the first states to acknowledge the value of cannabis as a replacement to that deadly and addictive drug. As far as we are concerned, the Show-Me state shows us very well how to structure a working medical cannabis program; now we want to see Missouri show us that full legalization is even better!
An earlier entrant into the medically legal cannabis program, Montana got its start in 2004. However, it seems to be stuck in that decade, as cannabis is still criminalized and possession in excess of 60 grams constitutes a felony. This Big Sky state needs to expand its horizons beyond the medical stage, but at least it remains an effective program with no limits on THC content. We’re watching and believe in you, Montana!
Another of the badlands states making cannabis illegal to possess or sell, Nebraska has just one thing going for it which is a start on decriminalization; possession of less than a pound now constitutes a misdemeanor instead of a felony. The Cornhusker State needs to get out of the cornfields and into fields of green, so let’s get on it Nebraska!
The state of Nevada knows how to profit from entertainment and leisure activities, so adding cannabis in 2019 as another fully legal source of enjoyment was a no-brainer. The state was also one of the earlier medical cannabis states, entering in 2000. Decriminalized, no possible felonies connected to it, and no limits on THC content makes Nevada a winner outside the casinos … a green jackpot, if you will!
A truly medically legal state since 2013, New Hampshire offers a generous list of qualifying medical conditions, has decriminalized cannabis, and has no felony laws connected to the plant. In 2020, more laws are expected to be reviewed (fingers crossed on full legalization!). According to their motto, Live Free of Die, they need to enact full freedom for cannabis!
Another medically legal state since 2010, New Jersey has not yet decriminalized cannabis but there are no longer any potential felony offenses related to cannabis. Their qualifying medical conditions constitutes a pretty wide list, making it relatively easy to acquire a medical card. The state has tried to pass recreational use several times, but have not yet accomplished it. This Garden State needs to upgrade their own garden of goodies to include recreational use, so let’s get on this New Jersey!
Medically legal since 2007, New Mexico has almost completely decriminalized cannabis (exception being in possession of over 8 ounces), has no felony laws, and does not limit amounts of THC. With a new Democratic governor in support of recreational cannabis now in office, chances for full legalization look very good for 2020. This Land of Enchantment is quite close to upping the enchantment dose, so we are watching with positive anticipation!
Even with over half the population in support of legalization, New York is still just a medically legal state (since 2014). The good news is that cannabis has been decriminalized and no possible felony charges can apply through use or possession, however some limits apply to THC content. They do offer a wide list of qualifying medical conditions, but as of 2017, only 25 dispensaries were authorized by the state; that makes for some long lines! We feel the Big Apple can do much better and is not showing the leadership we come to expect of this state; so let’s get progressive, New York!
Although claiming to be medically legal since 2014, as it only applies to using hemp extract for epileptic conditions, North Carolina essentially makes cannabis illegal to possess or sell. Perhaps the only shining light for this state is their commitment to decriminalizing cannabis and no felonious laws connected to cannabis. North Carolina boasts being First in Flight on their license plates, so why are they grounding so many cannabis users? You can do better, Tar Heels!
Another medically legal state, North Dakota actually employs commonsense laws to support patients in need. They offer a wide range of qualifying medical conditions and cannabis has been decriminalized with no possible felony charges for users or possessors. With a popular state nickname like “The Peace Garden State,” we’d love to see more peace spread through their gardens with cannabis. We’re watching you, North Dakota, so do right by your citizens!
A newer entrant into the medically legal arena for cannabis in 2016, Ohio has a long list of qualifying medical conditions, meaning acquiring a medical card is not difficult. With no THC limits, full decriminalization, and no possible connected felonies, this state has made great strides in accepting cannabis as a valued treatment. The Buckeye State had a run at recreational legalization in 2015, but came up short. Maybe next time, since the climate for legalization has improved dramatically in the last five years. Fingers crossed for you, Ohio!
Another latecomer to the medically legal status (in 2018), Oklahoma’s medical cannabis program is especially popular since it only requires submitting an application (not a medical condition) to get a medical card. While THC is unlimited and no felonies apply to cannabis, it is not yet decriminalized. Still, we are impressed with their application process and hope to see the move to recreational approval soon. After all, you are the Sooner State, so we want to see it Sooner rather than later!
In 1998, Oregon authorized medical cannabis, but the banner year for Oregon was 2014, when it became fully legal to possess and enjoy cannabis. Kudos to you, Oregon, for knowing and doing the right thing!
It has only been since 2016 that Pennsylvania established a medically legal cannabis program, but it offers a respectable list of qualifying medical conditions. While not decriminalized statewide, some cities like Pittsburgh and Philadelphia have made the move; another plus is there are no felony charges attached to cannabis and THC is not restricted. Now it’s up to the populace to make the next logical and profitable step: recreational legalization. Are you listening and watching, Pennsylvania?
In 2006, Rhode Island came on board with their medically legal cannabis laws. Decriminalization applies only to possession of less than an ounce; anything more earns a felony charge; they also have a rather limited list of qualifying medical conditions. Obviously, Rhode Island has lots of room for improvement; we’ll keep an eye on them to see if they actually do improve.
Another supposedly medically legal state, South Carolina is another poseur of progressive medical outlooks while keeping cannabis illegal to possess or sell; structuring a weak and severely limited program restricted to epileptic children and only allowing CBD oil containing under 0.9% THC doesn’t qualify. Clearly, South Carolina has unlimited room for improvement, so their citizens need to start clamoring more about supporting cannabis for health and prosperity!
Meet another of our badlands states, South Dakota, whose repressive and restrictive policies make cannabis illegal to possess or sell. Possessing less than 2 ounces is a misdemeanor; anything else earns a felony arrest. Talk about back of the pack, South Dakota must be choking on the dust of all the other states churning out cannabis profits. No wonder those guys on Mount Rushmore look so grim!
What is it with these state pretending to be medically legal when it really isn’t? Well, Tennessee is another of those badlands pretending to be paradise, but it is totally illegal to possess or sell cannabis in any form or manner. They tried a real medical cannabis bill in 2019, only to watch it die. There is talk of reviving efforts in 2020, but hopes are not high. We can only say it is laughable that their state slogan decries “Tennessee- America at Its Best!”
One more state where cannabis is illegal to possess or sell while the state claims to be medically legal. Since it only applies for serious seizure situations using only CBD oil with less than 0.5% THC, and it is still criminalized with felony charges possible, this Lone Star State is fooling no one besides their lawmakers. We know what you’re doing, Texas, and it isn’t pretty!
Just starting in 2020, Utah is very new at the medically legal cannabis game and appears to be taking cautious steps upon its entrance. It does have a good list of qualifying medical conditions (and THC is not limited), but it is still criminalized and most arrests result in felony charges. We congratulate Utah for finally getting into the game, but they still have a lot of yards to gain to be a real player!
Since 2016, cannabis is fully legal in Vermont, yet their laws are somewhat quirky. For instance, retails sales of recreational cannabis is not legal while it remains legal for medical cannabis (in place since 2004); this means you must grow your own for recreational reasons. Well, with folks like Ben and Jerry living there, you expect a few quirks. Overall, well done, Vermont!
Since 2018, Virginia has claimed to be medically legal since it allows patients to use a CBD or THC-A cannabis oil containing 5% or less THC, but we see them as another badlands out to fool its people; this makes it another state where it is illegal to possess or sell cannabis. There have been attempts to legalize and decriminalize cannabis, but they continue to fail. Virginia, you need to realize what year you are in and act accordingly!
Another pioneer, Washington (along with Colorado) made cannabis fully legal in 2012 (medically legal since 1998), and has profited greatly by that smart and progressive decision. The only illegal act connected with cannabis is growing at home (unless for medical needs); otherwise it is decriminalized with no THC restrictions. Thank you, Washington, for your successful pioneering efforts!
It strike us as ironic that, since 2014, in Washington DC, our nation’s capital, cannabis is fully legal (it was medically approved since 1998). Yes, the place where our lawmakers congregate to keep cannabis a federally-restricted plant allows those same people to use it for recreation or medically.
While flower form is not allowed, West Virginia does offer a good medically legal cannabis program (since 2017) with a long list of acceptable medical conditions. Although THC is not limited, cannabis is still criminalized and felony charges can apply. Generally, only pills, oils, and liquids are provided to patients. Clearly, West Virginia is trying, but still falling short. Another state to watch for more positive changes in the future!
With their highly restrictive ruling that only CBD oil is approved for seizure-causing conditions, Wisconsin is another badlands state pretending otherwise. Since it is not decriminalized, carries felony penalties, and restricts THC in its already limited capacity, we have another place where it is illegal to possess or sell cannabis. Their new governor has been working on decriminalization and other reforms, only to be shut down by lawmakers. We’re rooting for you, Governor Evers; don’t give up!
Of all the sneaky states pretending to be concerned for their citizens, perhaps Wyoming takes the cake with its pseudo-legal medical program limited to treating seizures with CBD oil with the additional burden of providing no legal means to acquire the medication. In other words, one more state keeping its position that cannabis should be illegal to possess or sell. Being not at all decriminalized and having threatening felony laws is not enough; Wyoming also tried to increase cannabis penalties in 2018. Now you know why Wyoming, a true badlands, is the least populated state in the nation!
The National Front: Outlooks for Cannabis
It isn’t just states that are paying attention to the growing cannabis demand and approval; there are even rumbles about Congress reforming federal cannabis laws, however many feel it would take a Democratic majority in the Senate for that to occur. Regardless of the timing, the momentum has begun and there is no stopping it, both at the federal and state level.
Other movements occurring at state levels will surely rise to become federal issues upon full legalization. For instance, some states are now coming to the defense of the medical card holders, fighting workplace discrimination against cannabis users. Already, New Mexico, New Jersey, and Oklahoma have enacted legislation to prohibit discrimination based upon medical status; in Nevada, an applicant cannot be denied employment based upon testing positive for THC and New York City won’t even let employers test for THC. Florida, Indiana, and Massachusetts appear to also be on board. as they are all considering new laws prohibiting cannabis discrimination and THC testing.
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