Special Report

19 States Where You Can Go to Prison for Having Weed

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Murder, rape, and burglary — acts of life-destroying violence that occur countless times every day — are generally not federal crimes in the United States, but possessing marijuana is. 

Medical marijuana was first legalized in California in 1996, with Alaska and Nevada following two years later. States began decriminalizing cannabis for recreational use much later, in 2012, mostly through ballot measures, with California, Alaska, and Nevada not doing so before 2014 and 2016. Vermont was the first state to legalize recreational cannabis use through the legislature, in 2018. 

The trend towards legalizing marijuana has continued, with city and state governments rolling out more laws legalizing the use of medical or recreational marijuana by residents in their jurisdictions every year. As of the beginning of 2023, a majority of Americans had access to legal marijuana. (By the way, this state consumes the most weed: ranking use by state.)

And yet, there are still millions of U.S. residents living in areas where police regularly dole out harsh penalties for possessing marijuana, including felony charges in five states — Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Serious offenders in Kentucky may be charged with 20 years in prison and $10,000 in fines. In total, it is legal and normal to go to prison for possessing less than 1 ounce of cannabis in 19 states. 

Police disproportionately target Black residents and communities even in areas where weed is legal, and this treatment is especially lopsided in the 19 states on this list. An analysis of arrests of Black and white residents for weed possession in 2018 by the American Civil Liberties Union found that Black Americans are anywhere from 2.4 times (Arkansas) to 9.4 times (Kentucky) more likely than white Americans to be arrested for marijuana possession. Reported marijuana usage rates are equal between Black and white residents of all of these states. (These are the worst states for Black Americans: every state ranked.)

To identify the 19 states where you can go to prison for having weed, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed max penalties, possession limits, medical marijuana laws, and racial disparities in marijuana-related arrests from “2022 Behind the Times: The 19 States Where a Joint Can Still Land You in Jail,” a report published by policy reform organization the Marijuana Policy Project, which has received funding primarily from Peter Benjamin Lewis and now his family. Lewis was an American businessman who was the chairman of Progressive Insurance Company. 

We reviewed and updated the maximum penalty and medical marijuana laws in July 2023. Marijuana use among state residents aged 12 and up in the past month in 2021 came from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

Click here to see 19 states where you can go to prison for having weed.

Alabama
> Max penalty: 1 year in jail and/or up to $6,000 for any amount
> Medical marijuana law: Yes – 36th state to legalize medical marijuana
> Racial disparities in arrests, 2018: Black residents 4.1x more likely than white to be arrested – #10 highest on list
> Marijuana use, age 12+, in past month, 2021: 315,000 – #31 most
> Total population: 5,039,877 – #24 largest

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Arkansas
> Max penalty: 1 to 6 years, $2,500 for 4 ounces
> Medical marijuana law: Yes. Patients may purchase up to 2.5 oz of medical cannabis per 14-day period from state licensed dispensaries.
> Racial disparities in arrests, 2018: Black residents 2.4x more likely than white to be arrested – #19 highest on list
> Marijuana use, age 12+, in past month, 2021: 233,000 – #36 most
> Total population: 3,025,891 – #33 largest

Florida
> Max penalty: 1 year and $1,000 for up to 20 grams; felony – 5 years and up to $5,000 for over 20 grams
> Medical marijuana law: Yes. Sharing your medical marijuana with another person, even if they are also a patient, is prohibited
> Racial disparities in arrests, 2018: Black residents 4x more likely than white to be arrested – #11 highest on list
> Marijuana use, age 12+, in past month, 2021: 1996,000 – #3 most
> Total population: 21,781,128 – #3 largest

Georgia
> Max penalty: 1 year in prison for over 1 ounce
> Medical marijuana law: No
> Racial disparities in arrests, 2018: Black residents 3x more likely than white to be arrested – #16 highest on list
> Marijuana use, age 12+, in past month, 2021: 1032,000 – #12 most
> Total population: 10,799,566 – #8 largest

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Idaho
> Max penalty: 5 years in prison with intent to distribute, $1,000 for up to 3 ounces
> Medical marijuana law: No
> Racial disparities in arrests, 2018: Black residents 3.9x more likely than white to be arrested – #12 highest on list
> Marijuana use, age 12+, in past month, 2021: 161,000 – #40 most
> Total population: 1,900,923 – #38 largest

Indiana
> Max penalty: 6 months and up to $1,000 fine for any amount
> Medical marijuana law: No
> Racial disparities in arrests, 2018: Black residents 3.5x more likely than white to be arrested – #13 highest on list
> Marijuana use, age 12+, in past month, 2021: 668,000 – #20 most
> Total population: 6,805,985 – #17 largest

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Iowa
> Max penalty: 6 months in jail and $1,000 fine for any amount
> Medical marijuana law: Yes. Patients may purchase 4.5 grams of THC every 90-day period
> Racial disparities in arrests, 2018: Black residents 7.3x more likely than white to be arrested – #2 highest on list
> Marijuana use, age 12+, in past month, 2021: 303,000 – #32 most
> Total population: 3,193,079 – #31 largest

Kansas
> Max penalty: up to 12 months and $2,500 for any amount
> Medical marijuana law: No
> Racial disparities in arrests, 2018: Black residents 4.8x more likely than white to be arrested – #7 highest on list
> Marijuana use, age 12+, in past month, 2021: 294,000 – #33 most
> Total population: 2,934,582 – #35 largest

Kentucky
> Max penalty: 45 days, $250 for up to 8 ounces; felony -1 to 20 years, $10,000 for over 8 ounces
> Medical marijuana law: Yes. Executive on Nov. 15, 2022 allows access to medical cannabis for residents who suffer from at least one of 21 medical conditions.
> Racial disparities in arrests, 2018: Black residents 9.4x more likely than white to be arrested – #1 highest on list
> Marijuana use, age 12+, in past month, 2021: 375,000 – #29 most
> Total population: 4,509,394 – #26 largest

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Oklahoma
> Max penalty: Up to 1 year, $1,000 for any amount
> Medical marijuana law: Yes. Any condition qualifies. 10% of residents have a card.
> Racial disparities in arrests, 2018: Black residents 4.2x more likely than white to be arrested – #8 highest on list
> Marijuana use, age 12+, in past month, 2021: 546,000 – #24 most
> Total population: 3,986,639 – #28 largest

Pennsylvania
> Max penalty: Up to 30 days, $500 for 30 grams
> Medical marijuana law: Yes. Legalized on April 6, 2016
> Racial disparities in arrests, 2018: Black residents 3x more likely than white to be arrested – #16 highest on list
> Marijuana use, age 12+, in past month, 2021: 1395,000 – #7 most
> Total population: 12,964,056 – #5 largest

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South Carolina
> Max penalty: 6 months, $1,000 for over 1 ounce
> Medical marijuana law: No
> Racial disparities in arrests, 2018: Black residents 3.5x more likely than white to be arrested – #13 highest on list
> Marijuana use, age 12+, in past month, 2021: 456,000 – #27 most
> Total population: 5,190,705 – #23 largest

South Dakota
> Max penalty: 1 year and up to $2,000 for up to 2 ounces; felony – 1 year, $4,000 for over 2 ounces
> Medical marijuana law: Yes. Passed by voter initiative in 2020.
> Racial disparities in arrests, 2018: Black residents 5x more likely than white to be arrested – #5 highest on list
> Marijuana use, age 12+, in past month, 2021: 62,000 – #49 most
> Total population: 895,376 – #46 largest

Tennessee
> Max penalty: 1 to 6 years, up to $2,500 for any amount
> Medical marijuana law: Yes. CBD oils with no more than 0.9% THC are permitted for very limited medicinal uses.
> Racial disparities in arrests, 2018: Black residents 3.2x more likely than white to be arrested – #15 highest on list
> Marijuana use, age 12+, in past month, 2021: 579,000 – #22 most
> Total population: 6,975,218 – #16 largest

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Texas
> Max penalty: 180 days and $2,000 for less than 2 ounces
> Medical marijuana law: Yes. Texans with certain medical conditions may qualify for the state’s “compassionate use program.”
> Racial disparities in arrests, 2018: Black residents 2.6x more likely than white to be arrested – #18 highest on list
> Marijuana use, age 12+, in past month, 2021: 1869,000 – #4 most
> Total population: 29,527,941 – #2 largest

Utah
> Max penalty: 1 year and $2,500 for 1 ounce to 1 pound
> Medical marijuana law: Yes. Legal to purchase and possess hemp extract, or CBD oil, if it contains less than 0.03% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
> Racial disparities in arrests, 2018: Black residents 4.9x more likely than white to be arrested – #6 highest on list
> Marijuana use, age 12+, in past month, 2021: 242,000 – #35 most
> Total population: 3,337,975 – #30 largest

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West Virginia
> Max penalty: at least 90 days (but not exceeding 6 months), up to $1,000 for any amount
> Medical marijuana law: Yes. Residents with serious medical conditions may use cannabis in pill, oil, or topical forms.
> Racial disparities in arrests, 2018: Black residents 7.3x more likely than white to be arrested – #2 highest on list
> Marijuana use, age 12+, in past month, 2021: 180,000 – #38 most
> Total population: 1,782,959 – #39 largest

Wisconsin
> Max penalty: Up to 6 months, up to $1,000 for any amount; felony – 3.5 years, up to $10,000 for second offense
> Medical marijuana law: No.
> Racial disparities in arrests, 2018: Black residents 4.2x more likely than white to be arrested – #8 highest on list
> Marijuana use, age 12+, in past month, 2021: 558,000 – #23 most
> Total population: 5,895,908 – #20 largest

Wyoming
> Max penalty: 12 months and $1,000 for 3 grams or less
> Medical marijuana law: No. Limited use of non-psychoactive Cannabidiol is permitted.
> Racial disparities in arrests, 2018: Black residents 5.2x more likely than white to be arrested – #4 highest on list
> Marijuana use, age 12+, in past month, 2021: 51,000 – #50 most
> Total population: 578,803 – #50 largest

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