Special Report

The Next 15 States to Legalize Marijuana

Source: Rena Schild / Shutterstock.com
A record high 64% of Americans support legalizing marijuana for recreational use, according to a 2017 Gallup Poll. Support for legalization is rooted in changing perceptions of the drug’s potential harm, as well as the prospect of hundreds of millions of dollars in marijuana sales and excise tax revenue for state governments.

The growing acceptance of marijuana among Americans has also been reflected in the ballot box. Currently, eight states and Washington D.C. have legalized recreational marijuana. Pro-pot initiatives passed in eight of the nine states in which they made it to the ballot in November 2016. Voters in Arkansas, Florida, Montana and North Dakota approved or expanded medical marijuana laws in their states. In Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada and California, voters approved recreational pot. Only Arizona’s push for full legalization failed.

All four states that legalized recreational marijuana in 2016 made 24/7 Wall St.’s list of the next states to legalize pot that same year.

Despite widespread acceptance of the drug, only about 21% of the U.S. population live in states or districts that have legalized recreational pot. In all likelihood, the share will only grow in the coming years.

Though every state to legalize pot so far has done so through ballot initiatives, going forward, states have a variety of options for making pot legal. Predicting which states will be next to legalize requires weighing a range of legal circumstances and cultural conditions. 24/7 Wall St. reviewed marijuana usage rates, existing marijuana laws, and legislative processes in each state to identify the states most likely to legalize pot next.

Click here to see the next 15 states to legalize marijuana.
Click here to see our detailed findings and methodology.

Source: Bill45 / Shutterstock.com

1. Arizona
> Possession decriminalized: No
> Amount decriminalized: N/A
> Max. fine for less than 2 lbs.: $150,000
> Annual adult usage: 12.7% (19th highest)

In ballot initiative states, citizens can vote directly on proposed laws. As a result, because politicians who may fear political fallout are out of the equation, states that allow ballot initiatives are much more likely to legalize recreational marijuana use than non-ballot initiative states. Arizona voters in November 2016 struck down Proposition 205, which would have allowed adults in the state to possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana and grow and harvest up to six plants, by a 52.2% to 47.8% margin. Despite the defeat for legalization proponents, other ballot initiative states that have struck down similar propositions in the past — like neighboring California — ultimately legalized pot.

Currently, state residents with dispensary cards suffering from a range of conditions, including PTSD, severe nausea, and cancer, can legally posses as much as 2.5 ounces of marijuana for medicinal use.


Source: Thinkstock

2. Arkansas
> Possession decriminalized: No
> Amount decriminalized: N/A
> Max. fine for less than 4 oz.: $2,500
> Annual adult usage: 11.3% (16th lowest)

As a ballot initiative state, the likelihood of Arkansas legalizing recreational marijuana use is considerably higher than that of most other states. Voters in the state recently approved Issue 6 by a 53.2% to 46.8% margin, allowing the use of medical marijuana with doctor approval for the first time. The new law may be a sign of progress for proponents of legalization, as voters in the state struck down a similar proposition as recently as 2012.

Still, the state has several potential hurdles to clear before full legalization is reality. Many voters in Arkansas may not be open to the idea of legalization, as just an estimated 11.3% of state adults 18 and older have used marijuana in the past year, a smaller share than in most states. Additionally, those caught in possession of any amount without doctor approval can face a misdemeanor, one year in jail, and a $2,500 fine.

Source: Thinkstock

3. Connecticut
> Possession decriminalized: Yes
> Amount decriminalized: Less than 1/2 oz
> Max. fine for less than 1/2 oz: $150
> Annual adult usage: 15.4% (10th highest)

As is the case in much of the country, Connecticut residents’ attitudes towards pot have shifted considerably in recent years. Some 39.1% of state adults 26 and older perceived great risk in monthly marijuana use in 2002. The share has since fallen to 28.8% of adults. Additionally, Connecticut’s medical marijuana program, which has been in effect since June 2012, was strengthened in 2016. That year, legislators added several new conditions to the list of those approved for medical marijuana, and the state’s Department of Consumer Protection greenlighted three new dispensaries. Even more recently, Democratic lawmakers in the state included a plan to tax and regulate marijuana in their 2017 budget proposal.

Connecticut is one several states to have decriminalized marijuana possession. First time offenders caught with less half an ounce face no more than a $150 fine. For repeat offenders, fines can be as high as $500, but still, possession of a small amount carries no criminal charges.

Source: Jon Bilous / Shutterstock.com

4. Delaware
> Possession decriminalized: Yes
> Amount decriminalized: 1 oz. or less
> Max. fine for 1 oz. or less: $100
> Annual adult usage: 12.7% (20th highest)

Delaware may very well be the next state to legalize recreational marijuana use, and the first in the country to do so without a ballot initiative. State lawmakers have sponsored House Bill 110, which, if passed, would regulate and tax marijuana in a similar way to alcohol. The bill made it past the Revenue and Finance Committee and will be considered by the state legislature in January 2018.

Marijuana legalization appears to have the support of voters in the state. A 2016 poll conducted by the University of Delaware found that 61% of state residents support legalization. Changing attitudes have been a long time in the making. In 2002, 41.4% of state residents 26 and older perceived great risk from monthly marijuana use. As of 2014, only 28.9% of state adults see monthly pot use as very risky.


Source: Ingo70 / Shutterstock.com

5. Florida
> Possession decriminalized: No
> Amount decriminalized: N/A
> Max. fine for 20 g. or less: $1,000
> Annual adult usage: 12.1% (24th lowest)

So far, every state to have legalized recreational marijuana use did so through a voter proposed ballot initiative. In November 2016, Sunshine State residents voted by a wide 71.3% to 28.7% margin to legalize medical marijuana use. Passage of the law, known as Amendment 2, means that patients suffering from a range of conditions, including Parkinson’s disease, PTSD, and glaucoma, can legally obtain and possess marijuana with a doctor’s approval.

Despite the recent constitutional amendment that suggests growing acceptance of marijuana use in Florida, recreational users in the state still face serious legal consequences. Those caught with 20 grams or less of the drug face misdemeanor charges, up to a year in jail, and fines as high as $1,000. Still, as a ballot initiative state, legalization could happen much faster in Florida than in states that do not allow voter-sponsored ballot initiatives.

Source: Thinkstock

6. Illinois
> Possession decriminalized: Yes
> Amount decriminalized: 10 g. or less
> Max. fine for 10 g. or less: $200
> Annual adult usage: 12.3% (24th highest)

Few states seem as poised to legalize recreational marijuana use as Illinois. State lawmakers are currently considering legislation in Senate Bill 316 and House Bill 2353 that would allow adults of legal drinking age in the state to possess, cultivate, and purchase limited amounts of pot. If these bills pass, marijuana sales could add to state coffers an estimated $566 million in excise tax revenue per year and as much as $133 million in sales tax revenue annually.

Currently, possession of certain amounts of marijuana for nonmedical purposes is decriminalized in Illinois. Those caught with 10 grams or less will not face more than a $200 fine. State residents with a range of conditions, including cancer, glaucoma, and Parkinson’s disease, can qualify for a medical cannabis card.


Source: Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com

7. Maryland
> Possession decriminalized: Yes
> Amount decriminalized: Less than 10 g.
> Max. fine for less than 10 g.: $100
> Annual adult usage: 14.8% (15th highest)

Support for legalizing marijuana for recreational use appears to be on the rise in Maryland, from 54% of residents in 2014 to 61% in 2016, according to a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll. More importantly, 64% of likely voters support legalizing pot.

The state has already taken a more relaxed attitude toward marijuana. Maryland allows medical marijuana use, it decriminalized possession of under 10 grams, and capped the fine for having a small amount at $100. But state legislators are still hesitant to institute full legalization. A recent legalization bill fell short of passing. The state legislature will not meet again until 2018.

Source: Thinkstock

8. Michigan
> Possession decriminalized: No
> Amount decriminalized: N/A
> Max. fine for any amount: $2,000
> Annual adult usage: 15.0% (13th highest)

Some proponents of pot legalization in Michigan are working to gather the 252,523 petition signatures necessary to include a proposal — to tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol — on the November 2018 ballot. If enough signatures are gathered, and if voters approve the measure, adults in Michigan will be able to possess up to 2.5 ounces and cultivate as many as 12 marijuana plants. If passed, Michigan would also join the ranks of a growing number of states to have legalized recreational marijuana through ballot initiatives. Voters in Michigan legalized medical marijuana for a range of conditions in 2008, also through a ballot initiative.

Currently, Michigan residents without a medical card can face a $2,000 fine and jail time for possessing small amounts of marijuana.

Source: Thinkstock

9. Minnesota
> Possession decriminalized: Yes
> Amount decriminalized: 42.5 g. or less
> Max. fine for 42.5 g. or less: $200
> Annual adult usage: 12.6% (21st highest)

Since Minnesota does not have ballot initiatives, marijuana legalization may face more of an uphill battle there than in many other states on this list. So some pro-pot lawmakers in the state introduced bills that would have allowed Minnesota voters to decide whether to amend the constitution to include marijuana as a right. That measure failed, but attitudes towards pot are shifting in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

Current Gov. Mark Dayton opposes legalization, even though he is part of the often pot-friendly Democratic party. However, Dayton is not seeking reelection in 2018, and most Democratic gubernatorial candidates announced they support marijuana legalization.


Source: Nick Fox / Shutterstock.com

10. Montana
> Possession decriminalized: No
> Amount decriminalized: N/A
> Max. fine for 60 g, or less: $500
> Annual adult usage: 15.1% (11th highest)

Montana has had a long and checkered history with marijuana laws. First approved for medical use in a 2004 ballot initiative, state lawmakers voted to repeal the measure seven years later, only to be blocked by a veto from the governor. Throughout 2011, lawmakers in Montana fought to impose stricter regulations on the state’s marijuana medical program. The following year, Constitutional Initiative 110, which proposed an all out legalization, failed to garner enough signatures to make it to the ballot. A similar initiative failed to make it to the ballot box as recently as 2016. Still, that same year, Montana voters passed the Medical Marijuana Initiative which loosened some restrictions in existing medical marijuana laws.

As is the case nationwide, Montana residents seem to become more accepting of marijuana use. An estimated 36.2% of adults 26 and older in the state perceived great risk from monthly marijuana use in 2002. As of 2014, only 26.6% of the same age group saw monthly marijuana use as inherently harmful.

Source: Thinkstock

11. New Hampshire
> Possession decriminalized: Yes
> Amount decriminalized: 3/4 oz. or less
> Max. fine for 3/4 oz. or less: $100
> Annual adult usage: 17.1% (9th highest)

New Hampshire is catching up with many other states heading towards legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes. The state decriminalized marijuana possession up to three quarters of an ounce in September 2017.

Some 17.1% of adults in the state used marijuana in the past year, the ninth-highest share of all states. The relatively high share of pot users could be part of the reason why legalization is so popular in the Granite State. A University of New Hampshire poll found 68% of residents support legalizing marijuana for recreational use. That is more support than any single elected official in the state has.


Source: Thinkstock

12. New York
> Possession decriminalized: Yes
> Amount decriminalized: 25 g. or less
> Max. fine for 25 g. or less: $100
> Annual adult usage: 15.0% (14th highest)

Much of the hopes for recreational marijuana legalization in New York actually rest with Massachusetts. Advocates believe that New York state officials could be spurred to act if legalization works well in the neighboring state, which will begin selling recreational pot in July 2018.

New York already has a medical marijuana program and a significant amount of users overall. The state is home to more than 2.3 million adults who used pot in the past year. Pot smokers caught with the drug in the Empire State have little to fear in the way of legal repercussions. First time offenders caught with 25 grams or less face a $100 fine, while second time offenders are slapped with a $200 fine.

Source: Thinkstock

13. Ohio
> Possession decriminalized: Yes
> Amount decriminalized: Less than 100 g.
> Max. fine for less than 100 g.: $150
> Annual adult usage: 12.0% (21st lowest)

Ohio’s attempt to legalize recreational marijuana in 2015 faltered, though the problem may not have been pot itself. Some voters were concerned the ballot initiative would have created an oligopoly, limiting pot profits to just a handful of companies sponsoring the legislation. Even the prominent pro-pot advocacy group Marijuana Policy Project did not endorse the bill. However, since voters can change state law via ballot initiatives, Ohio could be poised for another shot at legalization.

Ohio is in the midst of implementing its medical marijuana program. Currently, recreational users in the state caught with any amount less than 100 grams only face a $150 fine and no jail time.

Source: Thinkstock

14. Rhode Island
> Possession decriminalized: Yes
> Amount decriminalized: Less than 1 oz.
> Max. fine for less than 1 oz.: $150
> Annual adult usage: 18.7% (6th highest)

Rhode Island lawmakers are working to draft a bill that would legalize marijuana for personal use. They are aiming to introduce the bill in the first legislative session of 2018. If successful, the state could be the first to pass a recreational marijuana law through the state legislature, as all other states that have legalized marijuana use did so through ballot initiatives.

The bill had much support in the Rhode Island legislature, with about a third of the House of Representatives co-sponsoring the bill. Some 18.7% of Rhode Island adults used pot in the past year, more than 5 percentage points ahead of the national share of adult pot users. High usage rates can often suggest a more tolerant cultural stance towards pot.


Source: Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com

15. Vermont
> Possession decriminalized: Yes
> Amount decriminalized: 1 oz. or less
> Max. fine for 1 oz. or less: $200
> Annual adult usage: 20.6% (3rd highest)

Vermont was well on its way to having the first state legislature to pass a law allowing people 21 and over to use marijuana for recreational purposes. It was only one signature away, but Gov. Phil Scott vetoed the bill, saying he wanted to further study the effects pot has on public safety and state tax revenue. Scott said he would be willing to sign a recreational pot bill into law with a few tweaks.

It is not a surprise that politicians in Vermont would be on board with marijuana legalization given how popular it is in the state. Some 15% of Vermont adults used marijuana in the past month, and more than 20% used it in the past year. Those figures were both in the top three among states.

Detailed Findings

Marijuana legalization in any given state will ultimately reflect the will of the majority of its voters. Though just 13.1% of American adults smoked marijuana at least once in the past year, a far larger and growing share sees nothing wrong with marijuana use. Over the decade beginning in 2004, the share of Americans age 26 and up who believe that monthly marijuana use is inherently risky fell from 43% to 29%.

Marijuana use among adults by state can provide a rough approximation of a state’s cultural attitude toward pot. In every state on this list, annual marijuana usage rates among adults 18 and older are comparable to usage rates nationwide, and in some cases, are far higher. In Vermont for example, 20.6% of adults have used marijuana in the past year.

Each of the eight states to have fully legalized pot are states with voter initiative or referendum rights. In voter initiative states, citizens vote directly on certain issues that meet an established threshold of petition signatures. These initiatives, if passed, then become laws.

In states without ballot initiatives, marijuana legalization requires the backing of elected officials — who may fear the consequences of what for many is a controversial issue. However, as Americans become more open to marijuana legalization, an increasing number of elected officials support legalization. Any one of several states on this list could be the first to legalize pot without a ballot initiative.

Just as a state’s legislative system can affect the likelihood of legalization, existing penalties for those caught with pot can often reflect the political climate and prevailing cultural attitudes toward the drug. Not including the states where marijuana is legal, 13 states have decriminalized possession of small amounts of pot — making it a non-jailable offense, and in most cases, removing any potential for criminal charges.

Any state that has not decriminalized pot and does not have the advantage of ballot initiative laws was excluded from this list.

States that have already legalized medical marijuana may be more open to outright legalization than states where marijuana is prohibited across the board. Each of the eight states that legalized recreational pot — in addition to Washington D.C. — had a legal medical pot program in place before legalizing recreational use. As a result, states that have not yet legalized medical marijuana were excluded from this list.


To identify the states most likely to legalize recreational marijuana use in the coming years, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed existing marijuana laws and usage rates in every state. Only states where medical marijuana use is legal were considered. Further, to make the list, states had to either have decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana or be a state that allows voter-proposed ballot initiatives. States were excluded if the upper bound of the 95% confidence interval for the share of adults 18 and over who have used marijuana in the last year was below the lower limit of the confidence interval for annual adult usage nationwide. State marijuana laws and regulations came from advocacy groups National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and Marijuana Policy Project. Annual adult usage rates are for 2015 and came from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Perceptions of harm from monthly marijuana use also came from SAMHSA.

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