In How Many States is Marijuana Legal?

Recreational Use of Marijuana is Legal in These 4 States

Cannabis Plant
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There are four states in which marijuana is legal for recreational use in the United States. They are Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington. Washington, D.C., also allows the recreational use of marijuana. 

All four states had previously allowed the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.

Related Story: Pros and Cons of Marijuana Legalization

Colorado and Washington were the first states in the nation to legalize recreational use of the substance in 2012.

Here are the states in which marijuana use is legal. 

They do not include states that have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana or states that allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes.


The ballot initiative in Colorado was called Amendment 64. The proposal passed in 2012 with support from 55.3 percent of voters in that state on Nov. 6, 2012.

The amendment to the state constitution allows any resident over the age of 21 to possess up to an ounce, or 28.5 grams, of marijuana. Residents can also grow a small number of marijuana plants under the amendment. It remains illegal to smoke marijuana in public.

In addition, individuals are not able to sell the substance themselves in Colorado. Marijuana is legal for sale only by state-licensed stores similar to those in many states that sell liquor. The first such stores are expected to open in 2014, according to published reports.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, officially proclaimed marijuana legal in his state on Dec. 10, 2012. "If the voters go out and pass something and they put it in the state constitution, by a significant margin, far be it from myself or any governor to overrule. I mean, this is why it’s a democracy, right?" said Hickenlooper, who opposed the measure.


The ballot measure approved in Washington was called Initiative 502. It was very similar to Colorado's Amendment 64 in that it allows state residents ages 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana for recreational use. The measure passed in 2012 with the support of 55.7 percent of voters in the state.

The Washington ballot initiative also put in place substantial tax rates imposed on growers, processors and retailers. The tax rate on recreational marijuana at each stage is 25 percent, and the revenue goes to state coffers.


Alaska became the third state to allow the recreational marijuana use in February 2015. The legalization of marijuana in Alaska came by a ballot referendum in November 2014, when 53 percent of voters supported the move to allow use of the substance in private places.

Smoking pot in public, however, is punishable by a modest fine of $100.

Private use of marijuana in Alaska was first declared a right in 1975 when the state supreme court ruled that possessing small amounts of the substance was protected under the state constitution's guarantee of the right to privacy.

Under Alaska state law, adults 21 and older can carry up to an ounce of marijuana and possess six plants.


Oregon became the fourth state to allow the recreational use of marijuana in July 2015. The legalization of marijuana in Oregon came by ballot initiative in November 2014, when 56 percent of voters supported the move.

Oregonians are allowed to posses up to an ounce of marijuana in public and 8 ounces in their homes. They are also allowed to grow as many as four plants in their homes.

District of Columbia

Washington, D.C., legalized the recreational use of marijuana in February of 2015. The measure was supported by 65 percent of voters in a November 2014 ballot initiative. If you're in the nation's capital, you're allowed to carry up to 2 ounces of marijuana and grow as many as six plants in your home. You can also "gift" a friend up to an ounce of pot.

Federal Reaction to Legal Pot

President Barack Obama was in office when Colorado and Washington legalized the recreational use of marijuana.

He said his administration would not pursue federal prosecutions against users in those states. "We've got bigger fish to fry," Obama said in a December 2012 interview with ABC News.

Added Obama, who has admitted smoking marijuana in college: "It would not make sense for us to see a top priority as going after recreational users in states that have determined that it's legal."

Obama said called the discrepancy between federal law and state laws allowing recreational use of marijuana as a marijuana "tough problem." "I head up the executive branch," he told ABC News. "We're supposed to be carrying out laws. And so what we're going to need to have is a conversation about, How do you reconcile a federal law that still says marijuana is a federal offense and state laws that say that it's legal?"

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Murse, Tom. "In How Many States is Marijuana Legal?" ThoughtCo, Jun. 24, 2016, Murse, Tom. (2016, June 24). In How Many States is Marijuana Legal? Retrieved from Murse, Tom. "In How Many States is Marijuana Legal?" ThoughtCo. (accessed February 25, 2018).