Jul 1, 2016 6:19 AM

Legalization of Cannabis: A Guide to Marijuana Laws by State

Cannabis legalization is gaining momentum across the U.S. The number of states where marijuana is legal continues to increase, yet the precise meaning of “legal” depends on your location. This article is our quick guide to state marijuana laws. We strive to update it regularly to keep up with the most recent changes in legislation.

Marijuana Legalization by States

This guide is not intended to replace qualified legal advise; while we do our best to keep this text current, parts of this guide may be inaccurate or outdated.

In 2012, Washington and Colorado became the first states to fully legalize marijuana. A number of other states have joined since. Even today, many states are considering the legalization of cannabis—an act with potentially dramatic implications for the American criminal justice system and drug policy.

Recently, Ohio became the 25th state (not counting the District of Columbia) in the United States to legalize the use of medical marijuana for patients with certain conditions. Smoking cannabis remains illegal, but vaporizers, cannabis-infused edibles, and oils are now allowed.

However, just the fact that marijuana is legal for medical or recreational use in many states does not mean that you can consume it anywhere. Public consumption laws differ from state to state; sometimes, consumers can even be unaware of where they can enjoy the product legally. This state-by-state guide on public marijuana consuming laws includes all 25 states that legalized the use of the substance for either medical or both medical and recreational purposes.

Alaska Marijuana


In 1975, Alaska effectively legalized medical cannabis via a court decision. Although Alaskan cannabis-related laws are among the most liberal in the country, they are extremely complex and confusing, even for most residents.

In order to buy, possess, grow, or consume marijuana in Alaska, you must be at least 21 years old. You are allowed to possess up to one ounce (28 grams) of cannabis and grow up to six plants (only in-home, personal cultivation is allowed). You may also give up to one ounce of marijuana or up to six immature marijuana plants as a gift to other people who are 21 years old or older. Possession of marijuana for commercial reasons is prohibited by law.

It is also illegal to consume cannabis in public places—the state's law bans all public use of the drug in any form, not just smoking. Violation of this law may be punished by a fine of up to $100 with no criminal record. You can legally use marijuana when you are outside of the view of the general public or on private property, though some property owners may have policies that prohibit marijuana use.

Possession of more than four ounces or more than 25 plants is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $50,000.

The Marijuana Control Board announced that it was going to allow the on-site consumption of limited amounts of marijuana at licensed retail cannabis shops at some point in future.


In Arizona, marijuana is allowed only for medicinal purposes (since 2010). State law provides for a confidential statewide registry of medical cannabis patients and designated caregivers who are issued ID cards.

A qualifying medical patient who has written physician's certifications may not consume the drug at a dispensary or in public places. It is also prohibited to use, possess, produce, transport, and sell marijuana.

An Arizona congressman, Rep. Ruben Gallego, called for the legalization of marijuana in the state. He is the first lawmaker to officially support the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. The cannabis proponents have collected enough signatures to put the initiative on the ballot.


In California, Ballot Proposition 215, which allows the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, was approved by 56 percent of the voters in 1996. 1996 was the year when California arguably became the first state in the country to legalize medical cannabis. Under the Proposition, qualified patients with cancer, AIDS, and other chronic illnesses are allowed to grow or obtain medical cannabis when it is recommended by a doctor.

As Section 11362.79 states, “Nothing in this article shall authorize a qualifying patient or person with an ID card to engage in the smoking of medical marijuana under any of the following circumstances:

  • in any place where smoking is prohibited by law;
  • in or within 1,000 feet of the grounds of a school, recreational center, or youth center, unless the medical use occurs within a residence;
  • on a school bus;
  • while a motor vehicle that is being operated;
  • while operating a boat;
  • except as authorized by law, every person who possesses not more than 28.5 grams of marijuana is guilty of an infraction punishable by a fine not more than $100.”

Marijuana in California


    On January 2014, Colorado arguably became the first place anywhere in the world to allow legal cannabis sales to people over 21 for any purposes.

    Despite the fact that Colorado is considered to be the most cannabis-friendly state, its cannabis policy may seem somewhat confusing.

    The Colorado Marijuana Legalization Amendment, also known as Amendment 64, does not permit to consume marijuana “openly and publicly.”

    Using the drug in any way is not allowed in certain indoor and outdoor areas: parks and amusement parks; sidewalks; concert venues; businesses; restaurants, bars, and cafes; common areas of apartment buildings or condominiums, and so on. In short, public consumption of marijuana is banned; this ban currently attracts even more attention of public officials than any other marijuana-related topic. Private residences are the only places where it is allowed to consume cannabis (and even there, only with a permission of the owner of the residence in question).

    Those who are caught in possession of two ounces of the drug or publicly smoking a joint will be punished with a fine of up to $100 and possibly up to 24 hours of community service.

    Moreover, different cities in Colorado regulate cannabis use differently. Denver, for example, considered banning the drug use if it could be smelled by a neighbor, as well as the use on a front porch, backyard, and balconies. At the same time, you may consume marijuana in a taxi if the taxi operator allows it.


    In 2012, Democratic Governor Dannel P. Malloy signed legislation legalizing the medical use of marijuana. However, Connecticut marijuana possession laws are quite strict, and consuming cannabis in public places is prohibited. The term “public place” it defined as any area used by the public, whether owned or operated for private or public interests, including public transport, school grounds or any college or university property. Connecticut regulations ban the consumption of marijuana on dispensary premises as well.

    Substitute Senate Bill 1014 states that no person shall use or possess drug paraphernalia—to plant, propagate, cultivate, grow, harvest, manufacture, compound, convert, produce, process, prepare, test, analyze, pack, repack, store, contain, conceal, ingest, inhale, or somehow introduce into the human body—other than a cannabis-type substance in a quantity of less than one-half ounce. Any person who violates any provision of this subsection will be guilty of a Class A misdemeanor.


    Delaware is one of the states that allow to use cannabis for medical reasons. Medical cannabis patients can possess up to six ounces of marijuana. If the qualifying patient is younger than 18 years of age, they are only allowed to use medical marijuana oil that cannot “get someone high.” For the specific concentrations of the active ingredients, here is the law itself.

    For non-patients, marijuana is illegal but decriminalized. The state law makes possession of marijuana by an adult of a “personal use” quantity of the substance, defined as an ounce or less, a civil offense punishable by a fine of no more than $100 (no arrest and no criminal record). Smoking cannabis in public areas, on private property within ten feet of a street, in a moving vehicle, on a sidewalk, and other areas accessible to the public remains a criminal offense.

    Cannabis In Delaware

    District of Columbia

    Intiative 71, otherwise known as Legalization of Possession of Minimal Amounts of Marijuana for Personal Use Act of 201 went into full effect in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 26, 2015. The initiative permits adults to possess up to 2 ounces of cannabis in one's primary residence. You can give up to 1 ounce of marijuana as a gift, but sale of cannabis is not allowed. You can grow up to 12 plants per residence (regardless of the number of people living there together); only 6 plants can be mature at the same time.

    Medical marijuana patients in Washington, D.C. can possess up to 2 ounces of cannabis. Any debilitating condition (as recommended by a Washington, D.C. licensed doctor) qualifies a patient to use medial marijuana.


    Cannabis is legal in Hawaii for medical purposes only.

    “Smoking is prohibited within a presumptively reasonable minimum distance of twenty feet from entrances, exits, windows that open, and ventilation intakes that serve enclosed or partially enclosed area where smoking is prohibited.

    A person who smokes in an area where smoking is prohibited by this chapter shall be guilty of a violation and fined not more than $50 to be deposited into the general fund.”—Senate Bill 708.

    As a part of Hawaii's Smoke Free Law, the smoking of any plant material is banned in enclosed places, including airport, public transportation facilities and vehicles, galleries, libraries, museums, restaurants, bars, hallways, professional facilities, educational facilities (both public and private), facilities primarily used for exhibiting, health care facilities, licensed child care and adult day care facilities, and so on.

    Possession of one ounce or less of cannabis or concentrate shall constitute a civil violation subject to a fine not exceeding $100.


    Illinois has taken a go-slow approach to medical marijuana by allowing an average stoner to freely possess a small amount of marijuana without facing criminal charges.

    The Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program prohibits any person to use cannabis:

    • in a school bus;
    • on the grounds of any preschool or primary or secondary school;
    • in any correctional facility;
    • in any motor vehicle;
    • in a private residence that is used at any time to provide licensed child care;
    • in any public place where an individual could be observed by others and other facilities where smoking is prohibited under the Smoke Free Act.

    A “public place” does not include private residences unless it is used to provide social services on the premises.

    The possession of 10 grams or less of the substance is a civil violation punishable by a ticket ranging from $100 to $200 per offense as per Senate Bill 2228.


    Currently, Maine allows medical marijuana use under limited circumstances. In November 2016, lawmakers in Maine will decide whether the state should legalize recreational marijuana and regulate it like alcohol.

    Unless we are talking about medical marijuana (with proof of a physician's recommendation), the Rules Governing the Maine Medical Use of Marijuana prohibit any person from smoking marijuana on any form of public transportation or in any public place in general. Possessing up to 1 ¼ ounces of the drug is a civil violation punishable by a fine of $350–$600. People possessing over 1 ¼ ounces and up to 2 ½ ounces of cannabis will be punished by a $700–$1000 fine. Subsequent offenses within six months are punishable by a $550 fine.


    Maryland legalized medical cannabis in 2013, but the state commission tasked with overseeing the industry is still working.
    In Maryland, the use or possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana is not a criminal offense (Maryland Senate Bill of 2011 removed all criminal penalties for the cultivation, use, or possession of one ounce or less of the substance for medicinal purposes). Persons under the age of 21 caught in possession of marijuana must appear in court and may be ordered to undergo a drug treatment. The use or possession of more than 10 grams of marijuana is a civil offense punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or by a year in jail.

    Smoking marijuana in any public place, in a motor vehicle, or on a private property that is rented from a landlord or is subject to a policy that prohibits the smoking of the drug on the property is banned.

    Typically, only patients who obtained a doctor's recommendation and registered their status with the state can legally possess marijuana.


    Voters in Massachusetts approved medical marijuana in 2012. As for recreational cannabis, it is currently decriminalized but still not legal. However, the maximum punishment for possession of less than one ounce of the drug for personal use is $100. If you go over that limit, you are looking at a misdemeanor, up to half a year in jail, and a maximum fine of $500.

    Any on-site use of cannabis in any place of employment, school bus, school ground, any youth center, any correctional facility is a crime, as well as smoking in any public place.


    Medical marijuana has been legal in Michigan since 2008 under the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act. However, Michigan legislators are considering legalizing recreational marijuana in November 2016.

    A qualifying patient is allowed to possess up to 2.5 ounces of the usable pot (dried buds, flowers, and leaves of the cannabis plant) and to grow up to twelve cannabis plants for personal medical use.

    Currently, medical marijuana patients in Michigan cannot legally buy weed—in order to do so, they need either to grow their own plants or designate a primary caregiver.

    According to the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act, a qualifying patient with a registry ID card shall not be subject to arrest, prosecution, or penalty in any manner, including civil penalties or disciplinary actions, or denied any right or privilege.

    Smoking in a public place is illegal in the state, so if there is evidence that you consumed the drug, you can be punished with up to 90 days in jail or a $1,000 fine.

    If you are charged with possession of marijuana, you could receive a potential sentence of up to a year in prison or a fine of $2,000. Fortunately for you, you may be discharged conditionally if it is your first-time offense.


    Minnesota legalized medical marijuana, though no smoking is allowed.

    The state's law puts restrictions on cannabis use—Minnesota's medical marijuana program is considered one of the strictest in the country.

    As Chapter 311 of Minnesota Statutes 2012 states, “nothing in the act permits any person to engage in and does not prevent of any penalties for:

    • operating under the influence of medical cannabis that would constitute negligence or professional malpractice;
    • possessing or the use of medical cannabis on the ground of any preschool or school, in any correctional facility, or on the ground of any child care facility of home daycare;
    • vaporizing the drug on any form of public transportation or in any place where the vapor would be inhaled by a non-patient minor child, including any indoor or outdoor area used by or open to the general public or place of employment;
    • operating any motor vehicle or working on transportation property under the influence of medical cannabis.”

    Possession of up to 42.5 grams is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $200; possession of more than 42.5 (up to ten kilograms of cannabis) is a felony punishable by a sentence of five years and a fine of $5,000.


    Since the Montana Marijuana Act was enacted in 2004, the state allows medical marijuana use under certain medical conditions.

    In Montana, possession of even a single joint for non-medical use can be a reason for a six-month imprisonment. Possession of 60 grams or more may result in a sentence of up to five years and a fine of $50,000.

    People are also prohibited from operating, navigating, or being in actual physical control of a motor vehicle, motorboat, or aircraft under the influence of marijuana. It is also not allowed to use the drug in any place open to the general public, including places where exposure to cannabis smoke adversely affects the health, safety, and welfare of kids, on the property of any religious facility, at a public park, beach, recreational center, in any public transport, in any property used for school-related purposes, and in a health care facility.

    Except for registered cardholders, a person who possesses up to 60 grams of marijuana or less than one gram of hashish is guilty of a misdemeanor and, for the first offense, will be punished by a fine of $100-$500 and be imprisoned in the county jail for six months. Moreover, cultivation or manufacturing of marijuana for use visible from the street or any other public area is also a crime.


    Since 2000, medical marijuana has been legal in Nevada. Recreational marijuana is not allowed in any form, although Nevada may end marijuana prohibition if the Marijuana Legalization Initiative passes this fall.

    According to the Uniform Controlled Substance Act, anyone of 18 years and older with a valid Nevada medical marijuana card can legally purchase up to 2.5 ounces of usable marijuana (flowers, edibles, concentrates, topicals, and so on) every 14 days in Nevada. The option is also available to patients whose medical marijuana card was issued in another state.

    Cannabis must be consumed only privately—it is illegal to smoke in any place open to the public (including any local detention facility, county jail, state prison, or correctional facility), on a vehicle, and on federal land. A person who is convicted of possession of one ounce of the substance would be punished by a fine of $600 (for the first offense) or examined by an approved facility for the treatment of abuse of drugs to determine whether the person is a drug addict and, if yes, assigned to a program of treatment.

    New Hampshire

    Currently, New Hampshire is probably the last state in New England that still imprisons people for minor cannabis possession offenses: according to the House Bill 573, if you are caught with even a joint in your pocket, you could go to jail for a year and receive a $2,000 fine.

    Unlike in Massachusetts or Maine, possession of even the smallest amount of the drug will be charged as a Class A misdemeanor that means you could be imprisoned and get a huge fine. The fine doubles if a person is arrested for possessing marijuana in a school zone.

    Like in other medical marijuana states, in order to be protected under the law in New Hampshire, medical patients and caregivers must participate in the medical cannabis program and have valid ID cards. Qualifying patients are allowed to possess up to two ounces of the drug.

    The smoking or vaporizing of marijuana in any public place is prohibited. Cannabis patients may use the drug only on a privately-owned real property with written permission of the owner or the tenant in possession of the property. A tenant may permit patients to use marijuana on leased property (ingest or inhale through vaporization) even if smoking is banned by the lease or rental policies.

    New Jersey

    According to the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act, it is unlawful for any person to obtain or possess cannabis, unless it was obtained directly, or pursuant to a valid prescription or order form from a medical practitioner, while acting in the course of their professional practice.

    The penalty for possessing 15–50 grams of marijuana or 5 grams or less of hashish is a fine of up to $1,000 and six months in jail. Possession of up to 15 grams of the drug is punishable by a $150 fine for the first violation, $200 for the second violation, and $500 for subsequent violations.

    In addition to these penalties, possession of marijuana within 1,000 feet of a school or any school property (including school buses) adds 100 hours of community service to the sentence, as well a variable additional fine.

    New Mexico

    Last year, New Mexico passed legislation legalizing medical marijuana.

    As well as in the rest of the medical marijuana states, public consumption of marijuana is illegal. Any person possessing one ounce or less of cannabis is guilty of a petty misdemeanor and will be punished by a fine of $50 or more and by imprisonment of up to fifty days. Possession of up to eight ounces of the drug may result in a $100–$1000 fine and a year-long definite term, or both.

    The Article 31 of the Controlled Substance Act states that anyone violating Section A of this document while within a posted drug-free school zone, excluding private property residentially zoned or used primarily as a residence and excluding anyone in or on a motor vehicle in transit through the drug-free zone, with respect to any amount of the substance is guilty of a fourth-degree felony and shall be sentenced pursuant to the provisions of Section 31-18-15 NMSA 1978.

    New York

    In New York, possession of medical cannabis is not lawful if it is consumed—smoked, vaporized, or grown—in a public place, regardless of the form of the drug stated in the patient's certification.

    Under the Penal Law of 1977, a person is guilty of Criminal Possession of Marijuana in the Fifth Degree if he possesses the drug in a public place and such cannabis is burning or open to public view, where “public place” means a place to which the public or a group of people has access, including highways, transportation facilities, places of amusement, schools, hallways, hotels (except for rooms or apartments designed for actual residence.) The inside of a car on a public highway is also a public place.

    If you possess 25 or less of marijuana, and it is your first offense, you must pay a $100 fine; for the second offense, the fine doubles; subsequent offenses entail a $250 fine.

    The marijuana that a patient may possess shall be kept in the originally packed container and not exceed a thirty-day supply of the dosage as determined by the practitioner.

    Under the New York medical marijuana program of protections of the patients, certified patients, caregivers, practitioners, registered organizations, and their employees shall not be subject to arrest, prosecution, or a penalty in any manner.


    So far, Ohio is the last state to join the group of cannabis-friendly places in the United States but, hopefully, this will soon change with other states following the example.

    The piece of legislation legalizing medical marijuana in Ohio, House Bill 523, is relatively limiting—it only allows patients with certain medical conditions to consume cannabis in the form of oil, edibles, tinctures, or vapor, if prescribed by a physician licensed in the state. Marijuana users are also not allowed to smoke or grow their own plant at home.

    Patients and caregivers may possess up to 2.5 ounces of usable cannabis. All packaging must be closed and child-proof.

    Any form or method of consuming medical cannabis that is considered attractive to children, as specified in rules adopted by the board, is also banned. A cultivation license holder cannot grow medical cannabis for personal, family, or household use or on any public land, including a state park.

    Oregon Marijuana Laws


    There is no fine or penalty for possession of 1 ounce or less of marijuana in public.

    Public smoking of marijuana, as well as possession of 1–2 ounces of marijuana, is a Class B violation in Oregon. The Chapter 475B of Cannabis Regulation explains the term “public place” as a place to which the general public has access and includes hallways, lobbies, parks, playgrounds, areas used in connection with public transportation, and other parts of apartment houses and hotels.

    The penalty for committing a Class B violation is a fine of up to $1,000.


    Currently, medical marijuana is legal only for some Pennsylvanians. Only patients with serious medical conditions are able to access medical marijuana, with a physician's certification at designed state dispensaries.

    According to the Senate Bill 3 of 2016, it is unlawful to smoke medical marijuana and grow the plant unless the grower/possessor has received a permit.

    Possession of up to 30 grams of cannabis plant is a misdemeanor punishable by 30 days in jail and/or a $500 fine.

    Rhode Island

    The Uniform Controlled Substance Act prohibits smoking of marijuana:

    • on any school ground;
    • in a school bus or other public transport;
    • in any correctional facility;
    • in any public place;
    • in any licensed drug treatment facility;
    • in a place, where the exposure to the cannabis smoke may affect the health, safety, or welfare of children.

    Possession of an ounce of the drug is a civil offense and entails a civil penalty of a $150 fine with forfeiture of marijuana but without any jail-time or criminal record. Possession of 1 ounce to 1 kilogram of cannabis is a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment of up to 1 year and a fine of up to $500.


    The use or possession of cannabis or cannabis-related products by a registered patient or a caregiver for purposes other than symptom relief or in a manner that endangers the health of others is banned. The state's law also prohibits smoking in any public place, including any public vehicles, workplaces, places of employment, any school grounds, correctional facilities, public parks, beaches, recreational centers, or youth centers.

    A registered patient may not transport marijuana in public if it is not secured in a locked container. A patient also may not use it while operating a motor vehicle, boat, vessel, or any other vehicle propelled or drawn by power other than muscular power.

    Possession of up to one ounce of marijuana or five grams of hashish is a civil violation (not a criminal offense) and is punishable by a fine of $200-$500. Possession of up to two ounces is a misdemeanor punishable by a sentence of six months in jail and a fine of $500 for a first-time offense. Possession of up to a pound of marijuana is a felony punishable by a sentence of three years in jail and a $3,000 fine.

    Washington Weed Laws


    In Washington, Initiative 502 legalized small amounts of marijuana for adults 21 and over. There are still significant restrictions on cannabis use and possession, though the cannabis laws are relatively mild.

    An adult person in possession (in private) of no more than one ounce of cannabis for personal use is not subject to criminal or civil penalty.

    Possession of one ounce to 40 grams of marijuana is a misdemeanor punishable by a mandatory minimum of 24 hours and up to 90 days in jail. Public consumption of cannabis is a civil violation punishable by a fine.

    Medical marijuana patients registered in the state's voluntary patient database can possess up to 3 ounces of cannabis. The patient may grow up to 6 plants for personal medical use and possess up to 8 ounces of cannabis produced from own plants.

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