Where is marijuana legal in the US? Five graphs represent the state of the country
Oklahoma voters will reject a ballot measure that would legalize recreational marijuana in the state for adults 21 and older, CNN projects.
The vote in Oklahoma — where medical marijuana was legalized by voters in 2018 — shows how the issue is now shifting both politics and geography, as Americans’ attitudes toward the subject have improved in recent years.
Recent polls show that a majority of Americans now say they support legal marijuana. As attitudes change, lawmakers are showing a greater willingness to make changes on the issue: Five of the seven states that legalize recreational use have done so legally in the past two years.
Oklahoma would have become the latest state to illustrate how policies have changed in this area – even in red states. Twenty years ago, two-thirds of Americans opposed legalization. That is now reversed.
Oklahoma would have been the fourth state with recreational marijuana to vote for former President Donald Trump in 2020.
Gallup polls show that a majority of Republicans now support legalization after decades of opposition to the idea, reflecting a broad shift in population.
According to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), Oklahoma is one of 37 states, along with Washington, DC, to have a comprehensive medical cannabis program.
But many facilities for medical and recreational use are in gray areas. States have written a wide variety of laws, from collecting tax revenue from fully legal markets to making specific products.
That patchy legal network is the product of gradual progress at the state level as drug convictions declined over the past 27 years.
The legalization movement began in 1996 after California voters approved medical marijuana. In 2012, after several other states passed medical programs, voters in Colorado and Washington were ready to vote for recreational legalization.
By 2022, enough momentum had built up that President Joe Biden ordered a review of whether marijuana should remain a Schedule I drug. That classification means marijuana has “no approved medical use” from a federal standpoint, like heroin.
But proponents are skeptical of the federal government’s move after decades of inaction.
NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said, “If there was a tipping point that would influence the federal government or Congress to prioritize this issue, we’ve clearly passed that point, which could have been some time ago.” ”
In the future, however, more and more states will legalize through the work of their state legislatures, rather than through ballot initiatives, Armentano said. He noted that there are still a limited number of states that implement change through the electorate.
Of the 21 states and DC that have previously legalized adult recreational use, 15 have done so through a ballot measure, while seven have been enacted by state legislatures.
Activists supporting Oklahoma’s legalization move argued that recreational marijuana sales could bring in billions in tax revenue. According to the Tax Policy Center, the 21 states where recreational use is currently legal will start collecting taxes on marijuana starting Feb. 19.
Washington, DC was barred by Congress from introducing the taxes, and Virginia and Maryland are still setting up their markets.
“The way states do this can be lightning fast or take a long time,” said Richard Oxier, a senior policy officer at the Tax Policy Center. The efficiency of states like Arizona and Missouri in setting up their legal markets shows that “if you want to, you can go from zero to 60 very quickly,” Auxier said.
In Oklahoma, which already has a strong market of medical retailers, the transition is likely to happen quickly, says Bridget Hennessy, vice president of public affairs at WeedMaps, a tech startup that connects pharmacies with consumers. According to Leafly, another cannabis startup, there are currently at least 1,800 cannabis retailers operating in Oklahoma.
Ohio could be the next state where voters will discuss the issue in November. With the addition of a few other states that have introduced bills to legalize this year, nearly half of the nation’s states and D.C. could have a legal recreational drug market in violation of federal laws by the end of the year.
“This is a political and cultural issue that goes against all the rules you learn in civics classes,” Armentano said.