Recreational Cannabis in the United States: Where We Stand

Recreational Cannabis in the United States: Where We Stand


While legal cannabis in Nevada has been a reality for the last couple of years, the other states in the U.S. aren’t always so progressive. In fact, the battle for widespread legalization has been ongoing for decades, and has tended to move in fits and starts. With that in mind, we think it’s worth taking a look at legalization of recreational cannabis in the United States— where we’ve come from, where we are now, and how far we still have to go.

handcuffed to a cannabis plant representing the controlled nature of cannabisA Brief History of Cannabis Legalization

In the early days of the United States, marijuana was grown and used throughout the land. There was even a Marihuana [sic] Tax Act of 1937 setting forward standards of exactly how it should be taxed.

But in 1970, all of that changed. That was when the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 concluded that cannabis containing any perceivable amount of THC had ‘no accepted medical use’ and a high potential for abuse or dependence. This made cannabis use illegal for absolutely any reason, excluding a few FDA-approved research studies.

Immediately, cannabis became a crime. A few years later, the ‘War on Drugs’ began to decimate communities, lock up even first-time offenders for life, and make cannabis growing, use, or sale illegal and taboo. 

However, individual states eventually began to see the truth. Not only did cannabis containing THC have a range of medical uses, the conclusion that it carried severe health risks and a high potential for abuse was almost entirely false.

In 1973, Oregon decriminalized cannabis. Medical use of cannabis began to be legalized in a range of states over the next few decades. But it wasn’t until 2012 that the first states, Colorado and Washington, made recreational use legal. Still, only 11 states and the District of Columbia have legalized cannabis for recreational use.

Medical vs. Recreational Legalization

What does it mean when we say ‘medical use’ versus ‘recreational use?’

Medical use describes cannabis use that’s been prescribed or permitted by a licensed medical professional. Usually, it involves receiving a medical use card of some sort that states the user is allowed a medical amount of cannabis from licensed medical dispensaries. 

Which States Have Legalized Cannabis?

The following states have legalized cannabis for both recreational and medical use: 

  • Alaska
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Illinois
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Nevada
  • Oregon
  • Vermont
  • Washington

The majority of states have legalized cannabis for medically-approved uses, except for:

  • Alabama
  • Idaho
  • Kansas
  • Mississippi (Decriminalized)
  • Nebraska (Decriminalized)
  • North Carolina
  • South Carolina (Decriminalized)
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Wyoming

pot leaf in front of american flagWhich States Are Next to Legalize Cannabis?

While it’s difficult to say which state will be the next to cross the finish line on recreational legalization, there are a few that seem to be on their way. 


New Mexico

New Mexico’s state lawmakers recently passed a measure to legalize cannabis, but the law will have to be approved before it becomes the official law of the state.


New York

Governor Andrew Cuomo recently publicly prioritized statewide legalization, vowing that it will happen in 2020. We’ll see if he’s able to push it through, as previous attempts in New York have failed.


New Jersey

New Jersey is rounding up to its second attempt to pass legalization. 62% of voters in the state support it, so it could be on its way.



Our neighbors to the southeast may be joining us soon in the land of legalization. The success of their medical cannabis market has boomed, but advocates are facing a lack of funding and a lack of signatures to qualify— after all, Arizona is a convervative-leaning state that may not be ready quite yet.

Obstacles on The Path to Legalization

Recently, a potential obstacle to further state legalization of cannabis emerged when the U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the Cole Memorandum. Basically, the Cole memo said that while cannabis was still illegal on a federal level, states would be allowed to decide for themselves without government intervention. Time will tell whether the federal government will use the space left by the rescinded Cole memo to try and block new states from legalizing— but those states may be in for a fight until the nation finally wakes up and legalizes cannabis nationwide.

We’re fortunate to be a state where cannabis is fully legal for recreational and medical use. That means anyone who wants recreational cannabis in Las Vegas can browse our menu and place an order today, or shop in-store at Green NV— the premier recreational cannabis dispensary in Las Vegas.