Last updated: June 09, 2022
Because less than half of U.S. states allow citizen-initiated ballot measures, in most states, the only way to reform cannabis laws is via the state’s legislature. Polls show that 68% of Americans support making cannabis use legal and around 90% support allowing medical cannabis, but lawmakers lag far behind the public.
Only 19 states have legalized cannabis for adults, and only seven of those laws have been enacted by state legislatures (in a seventh state, New Jersey, the legislature itself referred the issue to voters). Meanwhile, 13 states are even further behind the times — lacking even a medical cannabis law. And 19 states continue to jail their residents for even simple possession of cannabis.
One legalization law and one medical cannabis law haves made it past the finish line this year: Gov. Dan McKee (D) signed the Rhode Island Cannabis Act to legalize, regulate, and tax cannabis in Rhode Island on May 25. On February 2, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R) signed into law SB 2095, sponsored by Sen. Kevin Blackwell, to restore voters’ will by creating a medical cannabis program. (The court had thrown out a voter-enacted medical cannabis law, along with the entire voter initiative process.)
Meanwhile, the Maryland legislature referred a simple state constitutional amendment to voters that will appear on the November ballot. The legislature also enacted companion legislation that will set up first steps toward legalization if voters approve the simple constitutional amendment.
In Delaware, a supermajority of legislators passed a simple legalization bill (HB 371), but Gov. John Carney (D) vetoed the bill. Several legislators who had initially voted in favor of HB 371 changed their vote on the override, causing it to fall short and be defeated.
Dozens of other states considered bills to advance sensible and compassionate state cannabis policies.
Here is a list of states where bills were considered in 2022 to legalize cannabis for adults, to decriminalize cannabis (i.e., by issuing a fine-only ticket for simple possession), or to legalize medical cannabis.
States with proposed bills to legalize cannabis for adults: 25 (two of which passed, including one referring legalization to the ballot)
In addition, efforts are underway to put citizen initiatives to legalize cannabis for adults on the ballots in several states, including Arkansas, Missouri, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, and South Dakota. Eighteen states have already passed laws to legalize and regulate cannabis (four of which did so in 2021): Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington.
States with decriminalization bills: 10
Thirty-one states and Washington, D.C. have decriminalized or legalized cannabis possession.
States with bills to create comprehensive medical cannabis programs: 11 (one of which is now law)
Thirty-seven states, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have effective medical cannabis laws. Three additional states — Georgia, Iowa, and Texas — have more limited laws that allow regulated access to low-THC medical cannabis preparations.
If you live in a state that still prohibits cannabis and no lawmakers have taken the lead to change that, send your state legislators a note to ask them to stand up for humane and sensible cannabis policies. Take a few moments to email them in support of medical cannabis, decriminalization, or legalizing and regulating cannabis.
If you live in a state that has already legalized and regulated cannabis for adults, check out the state’s page to find out what bills are pending to improve (or undermine) the law.