ON ELECTION DAY IN 2012, voters in Colorado approved a ballot initiative legalizing the recreational use and sale of cannabis, making the state the first in the U.S. to do so.
Ten other states, Washington, D.C. and Guam would go on to legalize the drug in the next seven years as public support for legalization rose rapidly, despite the fact that marijuana was and remains illegal at the federal level.
Some strains of the cannabis plant – often called marijuana or weed – contain a psychoactive compound called THC that produces a «high» when ingested.
Today, support for marijuana legalization has become mainstream among Democratic politicians, and some Republicans also back the idea. State legislatures are grappling with if and how to legalize the drug, while a slew of marijuana-related bills – including those aiming to legalize it on the federal level – have been introduced in Congress.
Opponents say marijuana poses a public health and safety risk, and some are morally against legalization. Proponents, however, argue that it is not as dangerous as alcohol and point to evidence that it has therapeutic benefits, such as stress and pain relief.
Advocates also see it as a money maker for states and a necessary social justice initiative. Marijuana laws have disproportionately affected people from minority communities, contributing to mass incarceration. States where the drug is legal have sought to retroactively address the consequences of marijuana prohibition, often including provisions allowing for the expungement or vacation of low-level marijuana convictions.
States where recreational marijuana is legal:
Retail sales from dispensaries are or will be allowed in all states where the drug is legal except for one – Vermont. States have their own processes for licensing dispensaries, but in all states where marijuana is legal, businesses that sell marijuana must have a license from the state to do so.