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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