In recent years, recreational cannabis legalization in the U.S. has been slowly gaining momentum state by state. The shifting legal landscape in the U.S. currently overlaps with a significant increase in public support for legalization, which is now favoured by the majority of Americans.
Notably, every ballot initiative involving the decriminalization or legalization was passed in the 2020 presidential election, revealing a major shift in the nation’s cannabis debate. Furthermore, a month after the election, the House passed the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, or the MORE Act, aimed to legalize cannabis at the federal level and implement “sweeping regulations and reforms” surrounding its use.
Beginning with Colorado in 2012, the recreational use of cannabis has become legalized in 18 states to date, as well as in the District of Columbia, the Northern Mariana Islands, and Guam. In addition, another 13 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands have decriminalized its use. Furthermore, 18 more states have sanctioned medical cannabis use, while legal recreational use of cannabis is still pending.
In several states including Pennsylvania and Georgia, cannabis use is illegal, but possession of small amounts is decriminalized in several of the states’ largest cities.
In January 2021, Montana was the latest state to legalize recreational cannabis use following the passage of Initiative 190. Since May, after signing of House Bill 701, officials at the Montana Department of Revenue have been preparing to take over the state’s medical cannabis program, which is currently part of the Department of Public Health and Human Services, as well as create a newly legalized adult-use market.
Currently, the only legal way to procure cannabis for recreational use is to grow it. Initiative 190 allows residents to have up to four cannabis plants for personal use, which will be reduced to two plants per person or four plants per household once HB 701 is signed.
However, residents who do not wish to grow cannabis and who do not have a medical cannabis card are required to wait until Jan. 1, 2022, when medical dispensaries can start selling it to all adults.
According to data reported by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cannabis is currently the most commonly used illegal drug in the United States, with approximately 22.2 million users each month.
Furthermore, recent data from Pew Research Centre shows that around nine-in-ten Americans favour some form of cannabis legalization. Presently, the vast majority of U.S. adults (91%) surveyed have stated that cannabis should be legal for medical and recreational use (60%) or that it should be legal for medical use only (31%). In contrast, only 8% of participants have said that the drug should not be legal in any form. However, fewer than half (46%) of U.S. adults said that they have previously used cannabis, according to the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. This figure is lower than the number of participants who said they have consumed alcohol (80%) or used tobacco products (61%).