Over the last few weeks, we have tried to glean what the direction of state and federal policy on marijuana may be. On May 5, Trump used a signing statement to signal his disagreement with provision 537, which prohibits federal funds from being used to prevent states from implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana. This provision lists 44 states that have some form of medical marijuana legalization at the state level. (Indiana and North Dakota were not on the list but have enacted medical marijuana programs).

As these statements spur discussions, it seems people are relatively unaware of the current landscape of state marijuana policies. Numbers can fluctuate depending on how you classify marijuana and legalization, (some states only allow cannabidiol or CBD oil, others have laws allowing medical marijuana but it is inaccessible because the states lack infrastructure for the purchase, sale, and manufacturing). The below summary is done as a waterfall, so once it is in one category it will not appear in a subsequent category. (For instance, a state that allows recreational marijuana also allows medical or a state allowing medical marijuana may also decriminalize the possession of recreational marijuana). Below is a summary of state policies as of May 12, 2017.

Federal Policy

Cannabis is illegal at the Federal level. Under the Controlled Substances Act, Marihuana is classified as a level 1 drug, the same schedule as heroin. The DEA confirmed as recently as December, the level 1 classification covers all cannabiniods from marihuana and cannabis. This is vastly inconsistent with the majority of Americans’ views and state law definitions of marijuana. In fact, there is not a single state that penalizes an individual in the same manor for marijuana and heroin possession.

Some key points on the analysis – the analysis covers all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The population numbers used are from the U.S. Census bureau estimates on July 1, 2016, where the total U.S. population was 323,127,513.


There are currently eight states and the District of Columbia that have passed legislation for legal adult-use (recreational/retail) marijuana. The states that currently offer licenses and have established legal frameworks are Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington. In November 2017, four more states approved adult-use marijuana and are developing a legal framework for licensing – California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada. The District of Columbia allows you to possess and home grow marijuana but has not developed any legal structure for purchase, sale or manufacturing. That is 68.7 million people, or 21% of Americans live in a state (or district) that allows recreational marijuana.


Perhaps more surprisingly, is 22 states allow for medical marijuana. Over 137 million Americans, or about 42.5% of Americans live in a state that allows medical marijuana.  (Please see below for a list of states). Laws and access to marijuana vary among the states. While it may seem there’s a new wave of states passing medical marijuana recently, medical marijuana is not new. California passed the first medical marijuana law in 1996, and over the next 20 years a few states at a time passed similar legislation. Each state develops their own restrictions, quantities, grow policies, registries, sales, and conditions that may be treated by marijuana vary by each state.

Limited Medical

16 states with a total population of almost 110 million people, or 34% of the population live in a state that allows low-THC, CBD oil.  CBD oil comes from the same plant as marijuana (Cannabis sativa L.) but has low THC (the psychoactive component of marijuana). States that have allowed limited medical tend to allow for CBD that is non-psychoactive, but the percentage of THC can vary. The dispensing of the CBD can vary from university facilities or research hospitals and others. Interestingly, many of these states allow for the use in adults and children. Like medical, the conditions that can be prescribed CBD oil range from epilepsy to cancer, Crohn’s disease, HIV, MS, Parkinson’s, PTSD and an array of others.

State Prohibition

Kansas, South Dakota and Idaho are the only states with a total cannabis prohibition, 5 million or 1.69% of Americans. The Idaho house passed Low-THC, CBD oil in 2015 but the legislation was vetoed by the Governor. Nebraska does not allow for the purchase or sale of any type of marijuana or CBD oil, however they have decriminalized marijuana so the violation results in a $300 citation (Nebraska’s population is 1.9 million, .59%). Kansas, South Dakota, and Idaho have lesser penalties (misdemeanors) for marijuana possession than other drugs, like heroin.


Given this is a new and evolving industry, there are controversies. First, some patients or customers have found it difficult to obtain medical marijuana or CBD due to the lack of infrastructure, laws are on the books but access is lacking. Next, most Americans support marijuana, yet they are apprehensive of where the stores will be located. On April 20, 2017, American voters said 60-34% the use of marijuana should be made legal in the U.S.; 94-5% support “allowing adults to legally use marijuana for medical purposes”. However, there’s a mindset that has come to be known as “not in my backyard”. Americans want access to marijuana but they do not want the store to pop up in their neighborhood. These two are growing pains and adjustments that can be expected in a new industry.

Marijuana is not going away. From the time I began this entry to posting, I’ve had to update the state categories several times. One thing is for sure, marijuana will continue to be a talking point and hopefully some of the facts and statistics given shed light on the various states of marijuana.

By the Numbers

Population Percentage # of States/District
Recreational 68,678,407.00 21.25% 9
Medical 137,253,498.00 42.48% 22
Medical w/ Limits 109,832,609.00 33.99% 16
Decriminalization 1,907,116.00 0.59% 1
State Prohibition 5,455,883.00 1.69% 3
323,127,513.00 100.00% 51

By state

Recreational  Alaska, California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Washington

Medical  Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia

Limited Medical – Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming

Prohibition – Idaho, Kansas, Nebraska (decriminalized), South Dakota