Updated cannabis state-by-state rankings guide – August 2021

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Thompson Coburn LLP

[co-author: Michael Rosenblum*]

Updated August 2021!

The Tracking Cannabis blog is proud to present our fourth state-by-state ranking of cannabis regulations, based on how favorable they are to the cannabis industry. Our guide, available here in PDF form, provides a state-by-state review of current cannabis law. In addition, you can find an update on the cannabis regulatory status of each state in the chart directly below.

Boasting the largest cannabis economy in the country, and for the fourth year in a row, California remains in the top spot of our rankings. Although the state has experienced growing pains with respect to licensing and enforcement, California’s experience with both cannabis and cannabis regulation indicates a bright future.

The state that rose the most was Arizona, moving from #30 to #8. Other states that moved significantly upward were New York, Montana, North Dakota, Alaska and South Dakota. States moving in the other direction were Montana, Hawaii and West Virginia. Most other states remained very close to their original rankings. Almost every state has passed new legislation regarding cannabis, and that information is contained in the update description for each state.

Although it is not accounted for in our rankings, the gap between federal and state law has always been a challenging issue for state legislators and prosecutors. There is now pending federal legislation regarding cannabis, although the prospects for reform on the federal level remains unlikely.

You can find our full rankings here in the PDF form, with detailed information about the cannabis environment in each state. To jump to the full regulatory summary for a particular state, just click on the state name in the chart below.

Our methodology

Jurisdictions are ranked on the following factors:

  1. Cannabidiol (CBD) derived from marijuana plants (THC concentration equal to or greater than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis) – legality and required qualifications;
  2. Medical cannabis – legality and required qualifications;
  3. Recreational cannabis – legality and issuance of commercial cannabis licenses;
  4. Non-profit cannabis entities – permissibility and requirements;
  5. Commercial cannabis licenses – availability, caps and restrictions;
  6. Cannabis regulatory agencies – authority and qualifications;
  7. Developments and trends – support for ongoing cannabis legalization measures; and
  8. Business opportunities – number of operators, consumers and untapped industry potential.

Note: This ranking is subjective, and different factors weigh more heavily in different states. All of the information regarding each state is current as of the date of this posting. However, laws are constantly changing and with each election the statutes in any particular state may also change. In addition, this list does not consider federal laws, which may be consistent on a national level but can be applied selectively on a state level.

State Rankings Note

California

New Ranking: 1

Old Ranking: 1

Change: 0

California remains No. 1 as the largest cannabis market in the nation. California has legalized both adult-use and medical marijuana, making it one of the most relaxed states in the nation with regard to cannabis use top spot.

Nevada

New Ranking: 2

Old Ranking: 2

Change: 0

Nevada legalized medical marijuana in 2001 and adult-use marijuana in 2017. Adult use marijuana restrictions are similar to restrictions on alcohol: users must be 21 years of age or older; marijuana may only be purchased from a business licensed in Nevada; selling or giving marijuana to individuals under 21 years of age is illegal; and driving under the influence of marijuana is illegal.

Colorado

New Ranking: 3

Old Ranking: 3

Change: 0

Both medical and adult-use cannabis are legal in Colorado. Colorado’s constitution was amended on December 28, 2000 to legalize cannabis for medical purposes, and amended again on December 10, 2012 to legalize adult-use. In 2020, Colorado cannabis sales across the medical and adult-use sectors were over $2 billion, totalling $9.8 billion since state-licensed retail sales of adult-use cannabis began in January 2014.

Massachusetts

New Ranking: 4

Old Ranking: 4

Change: 0

Commercial cannabis activity is regulated by the Cannabis Control Commission, but local municipalities can also regulate some activities. Although there is a cap on the number of licenses a licensee can obtain, cannabis businesses can operate as for-profit entities.

Illinois

New Ranking: 5

Old Ranking: 6

Change: +1

Illinois legalized cannabis for medical purposes in 2014. In July 2016, Public Act 99-0697 reduced penalties associated with the adult-use of cannabis. On June 25, 2019, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed HB 1438, the Illinois Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act, into law. The bill legalized the adult-use and purchase of cannabis.

Oregon

New Ranking: 6

Old Ranking: 5

Change: -1

Adult-use and medical marijuana are both legal in Oregon. Oregon legalized medical marijuana in 1998 with the passage of Measure 67, the Medical Marijuana Act (OMMA). Oregon then passed the Adult and Medical Use of Cannabis Act in 2014, which legalized the adult-use of marijuana.

Michigan

New Ranking: 7

Old Ranking: 7

Change: 0

On November 6, 2018, Michigan voters legalized adult-use cannabis with the passage of Proposal 18-1, also known as the Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act (“MRTMA”). At the time of its enactment, Michigan became the 10th state to legalize recreational cannabis and the first to do so in the Midwest.

Arizona

New Ranking: 8

Old Ranking: 30

Change: +22

Both medical and adult-use marijuana are legal in Arizona. Medical marijuana has been legal since 2010. On November 30, 2020, Arizona voters legalized the commercial sale and adult-use of recreational marijuana by voting in favor of Proposition 207, the Smart and Safe Act. The first state-licensed sale took place January 22, 2021, making Arizona the fastest state to go from voter approval to the state-licensed sale of marijuana.

Maine

New Ranking: 9

Old Ranking: 8

Change: +1

A bill signed by Gov. Janet Mills in June 2019 launched Maine recreational sales, beginning in March 2020. It maintained a strict barrier to entry in the retail market by requiring business to be run by individuals who have been residents of Maine for four years.

Washington

New Ranking: 10

Old Ranking: 10

Change: 0

Washington has a history of being ahead of the curve on marijuana legislation. The state legalized medical use in 1998. Sales began in July 2014, and while the first years of adult-use legalization led to double digit YOY increases, as of 2019 sales have slowed to single digit increases for the first time in the state’s short history.

Vermont

New Ranking: 11

Old Ranking: 11

Change: 0

Vermont legalized adult use in 2018, and is slowly moving towards a regulated industry and retail sales, but not quite as quickly as other states who have embraced legalization more comprehensively. With the passage of SB 25, Vermont enacted a tax-and-regulate system, with retail sales set to begin in 2022. Further, SB 25 has a social equity provision that benefits small businesses and minority owned business.

Alaska

New Ranking: 12

Old Ranking: 9

Change: -3

In 2014, Alaska legalized the adult-use of cannabis through a successful ballot measure, making it the third state in the nation (behind Colorado and Washington) to legalize adult-use. The state also permits businesses to possess, grow, process, transport, or transfer to another person 21 and over up to 6 marijuana plants.

New York

New Ranking: 13

Old Ranking: 17

Change: +4

New York legalized medical marijuana in 2014. As for adult-use, on March 31, 2021, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed 2021 NY S.B. 854, the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA). MRTA legalized and regulates adult-use of marijuana.

New Jersey

New Ranking: 14

Old Ranking: 16

Change: +2

On February 22, 2021, Gov. Phil Murphy signed three cannabis-related bills into law. The three bills—A21, A1897, and S3454—implemented a 2020 constitutional amendment that legalized recreational marijuana. The 2020 Marijuana Legalization Amendment legalizes possession of up to six ounces of marijuana or seventeen grams of hashish. Medical marijuana taxes are being phased out, with a goal of 0% tax after July 1, 2022.

Connecticut

New Ranking: 15

Old Ranking: 19

Change: +4

On June 22, 2021, Governor Lamont signed An Act Concerning the Equitable and Responsible Regulation of Cannabis. The Act legalized the possession of adult-use marijuana as of July 1. Though possession of adult-use marijuana is legal, its sale is not expected to begin until mid to late 2022.

District of Columbia

New Ranking: 16

Old Ranking: 14

Change: -2

The future of cannabis law in D.C. is dependent on the U.S. Congress. Even though D.C. voters approved the taxation and regulation of marijuana transactions for adult-use in 2014, Congress shot down the effort. In February 2021, Mayor Bowser introduced the Safe Cannabis Sales Act, which if passed by the end of 2021, could allow for the sale of adult-use cannabis by October 2022.

Virginia

New Ranking: 17

Old Ranking: 41

Change: +24

On April 7, 2021, Virginia became the first Southern state to legalize marijuana with the passage of HB 2312 and SB 1406. As of July 1, individuals 21 years and older may possess up to one ounce of cannabis and grow up to four cannabis plants that must be tagged with the grower’s identifying information. Additionally, as of July 1, Virginia’s Cannabis Control Authority has the power to issue business licenses, with marijuana sales set to begin in 2024.

New Mexico

New Ranking: 18

Old Ranking: 12

Change: -6

Both adult-use and medical marijuana are now legal in New Mexico. On April 21, 2021, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed HB 2, the New Mexico Cannabis Regulation Act (CRA), legalizing adult-use marijuana. On June 29, 2021, the provisions allowing for the possession and adult-use of marijuana became effective.

Montana

New Ranking: 19

Old Ranking: 23

Change: -4

Influenced by adult use legalization in Massachusetts, Connecticut lawmakers have been making noises about passing such legislation, although it would likely not happen until 2020 at the earliest.

Rhode Island

New Ranking: 20

Old Ranking: 20

Change: 0

Both medical and adult-use marijuana are now legal in Rhode Island. Rhode Island legalized medical marijuana in 2006 by enacting the Edward O. Hawkins and Thomas C. Slater Medical Marijuana Act. In June 2021, the Rhode Island Senate passed legislation that would legalize adult-use marijuana. However, that legislation has yet to be signed into law and there is additional legislation being considered.

Maryland

New Ranking: 21

Old Ranking: 13

Change: -8

Although marijuana is not legal for adult-use in Maryland, it is legal for medical use. Two bills were introduced in the 2021 legislative session to legalize marijuana for adult-use, but the session ended without either bill moving forward.

Pennsylvania

New Ranking: 22

Old Ranking: 15

Change: -7

Pennsylvania legalized medical marijuana use in 2016 with the Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Act. Two bills to decriminalize cannabis were also introduced in the House and Senate, but have yet to receive hearings. Pennsylvania’s legislature may consider crafting a bipartisan bill to legalize marijuana.

Hawaii

New Ranking: 23

Old Ranking: 18

Change: -5

In March 2021, SB 767, which would legalize adult-use cannabis and allow licensed businesses to cultivate and sell cannabis products, passed the Senate Ways & Means Committee by unanimous vote and is currently heading to the Senate for a full vote. Gov. Ige remains unsupportive of cannabis legalization.

Louisiana

New Ranking: 24

Old Ranking: 21

Change: -3

While no bills introduced to legalize recreational cannabis in Louisiana have passed, the House passed a study resolution in 2021, asking the Committee on Administration of Criminal Justice (the “Committee”) to examine and report on the impact of legalizing the possession and use of cannabis prior to the 2022 legislative session.

New Hampshire

New Ranking: 25

Old Ranking: 25

Change: 0

The current perception of marijuana in New Hampshire is positive. The Democratic Party of New Hampshire has made the legalization of adult-use marijuana part of its platform.

Florida

New Ranking: 26

Old Ranking: 24

Change: -2

On a recreational marijuana front, there remain sustained citizen-led efforts to get an amendment to legalize recreational marijuana on the ballot.

Minnesota

New Ranking: 27

Old Ranking: 25

Change: -2

Currently, medical marijuana is legal under Minnesota law. On May 13, 2021, the Minnesota House of Representatives voted 72-61 to legalize cannabis. This was the first time either chamber of the state legislature voted to legalize cannabis. However, the legislature adjourned its regular session two days later. Bill HF 600 will pick up where it left off when the legislative session begins in 2022.

Ohio

New Ranking: 28

Old Ranking: 26

Change: -2

Ohio legalized medical marijuana in 2016, subject to certain conditions and qualifications. Democrats are preparing to file a bill to legalize and regulate marijuana for adult-use.

Oklahoma

New Ranking: 29

Old Ranking: 27

Change: -2

On June 26, 2018, Oklahoma became the 30th state to legalize medical marijuana. Adult-use marijuana is not legal in Oklahoma.

Arkansas

New Ranking: 30

Old Ranking: 28

Change: -2

Though other adult use legalization initiatives have failed, Arkansas True Grass is sponsoring a ballot initiative in the hopes of making the ballot for the 2022 election cycle.

North Dakota

New Ranking: 31

Old Ranking: 29

Change: -2

Medical marijuana is legal in North Dakota. Recreational marijuana is not legal, but in March 2021, a ballot initiative was passed by the House. The Senate later rejected the initiative.

Missouri

New Ranking: 32

Old Ranking: 33

Change: +1

As of August 2021, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services reported 100,000 patients registered in the medical cannabis program, served by 135 approved dispensaries and over $91 million in sales.

Delaware

New Ranking: 33

Old Ranking: 31

Change: -2

Gov. John Carney is a determined opponent of adult-use legalization, believing that marijuana is a “gateway drug.” Despite Gov. Carney’s opposition, adult use legalization bills have been proposed in the state.

Utah

New Ranking: 34

Old Ranking: 34

Change: 0

In 2021, the state legislature passed Senate Bill 192 which created the Cannabis Production Establishment Licensing Advisory Board. Time will tell whether the new administration will hinder or advance the legalization of marijuana.

Texas

New Ranking: 35

Old Ranking: 35

Change: 0

State Republicans voted to approve platforms endorsing marijuana decriminalization, medical cannabis, and industrial hemp, and in June 2019, Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill legalizing industrial hemp and some CBD product.

West Virginia

New Ranking: 36

Old Ranking: 32

Change: -4

West Virginia’s medical cannabis program has been one of the slowest to develop in the nation, and sales are not planned until 2022.

Alabama

New Ranking: 37

Old Ranking: 42

Change: +5

Beginning on Sept. 1, 2022, businesses may submit license applications. The Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission is permitted to grant licenses for up to 12 cultivators, four processors, four dispensaries (which each may operate up to three locations in different counties), five integrated facilities (that may grow, process, transport and dispense at up to five dispensing sites in different counties), along with secure transporters and testing laboratories.

Iowa

New Ranking: 38

Old Ranking: 40

Change: +2

Iowa has one of the most restrictive medical cannabis programs in the nation. Iowa allows the use of cannabidiol (CBD) including only non-smokable products for people with certain physical ailments.

South Dakota

New Ranking: 39

Old Ranking: 49

Change: +10

South Dakota has made promising steps towards legalizing both medical and recreational marijuana. South Dakota voters recently approved Measure 26 and Amendment A which would create a medical marijuana program and legalize recreational marijuana for those 21 and older.

Kentucky

New Ranking: 40

Old Ranking: 37

Change: -3

There seems to be growing interest in Kentucky for legalizing cannabis for medical or adult-use, but efforts have failed to result in legalization.

Mississippi

New Ranking: 41

Old Ranking: 39

Change: -2

In November 2020, 74% of Mississippi voters approved a bill legalizing medical marijuana. Unfortunately, in May 2021, the state Supreme Court overturned the measure in a 6-3 ruling on procedural grounds unrelated to the initiative’s merits.

Georgia

New Ranking: 42

Old Ranking: 38

Change: -4

In April 2019, Gov. Brian Kemp signed House Bill 324, which provided greater access and availability by making it legal to produce and distribute low-THC marijuana oils in Georgia. A state board will license dispensaries.

Wyoming

New Ranking: 43

Old Ranking: 36

Change: -7

Wyoming legislators introduced two House bills proposing a tax-and-regulate scheme for marijuana and a study program for medical cannabis in 2021. Unfortunately, neither of the bills survived, and it does not seem that the legislature is in any rush to legalize marijuana.

Tennessee

New Ranking: 44

Old Ranking: 47

Change: +3

Tennessee has made little progress in legalizing marijuana for medical or recreational use, but did pass a bill creating a Medical Cannabis Commission in preparation of federal rescheduling of marijuana.

South Carolina

New Ranking: 45

Old Ranking: 46

Change: +1

Although there have been attempts to legalize medical marijuana since 1980, the legislative push for the legalization of medical marijuana once again proved unsuccessful in 2021.

Kansas

New Ranking: 46

Old Ranking: 44

Change: +2

Kansas is among the states that have not legalized the use of cannabis for medical purposes. In May 2018, however, the state passed a law updating its definitions of substances included in schedules I, II, and III of the Uniform Controlled Substances Act.

Wisconsin

New Ranking: 47

Old Ranking: 43

Change: -4

In Wisconsin, neither medical or adult cannabis use is legally permitted. Cannabidiol is legal if dispensed by a pharmacy or physician, pursuant to Wis. Stat. Ann. § 961.38.

Indiana

New Ranking: 48

Old Ranking: 45

Change: -3

Despite its neighbors to the north and west, Michigan and Illinois respectively, having fully legalized recreational cannabis possession and use, Indiana cannabis activists have not been able to get a legalization bill to the committee floor.

North Carolina

New Ranking: 49

Old Ranking: 38

Change: -11

In North Carolina, neither medical marijuana nor recreational marijuana are legal. Historically, the state has been very stringent towards marijuana consumption.

Idaho

New Ranking: 50

Old Ranking: 50

Change: 0

Despite bordering three states (Nevada, Oregon, Washington) that have legalized adult-use marijuana, Idaho has not legalized medical marijuana use, nor has it legalized adult-use of marijuana.

Nebraska

New Ranking: 51

Old Ranking: 51

Change: 0

Nebraska does not allow adult-use or medical marijuana use. The public, however, appears ready for medical marijuana, though perhaps not for adult-use. While 60% of Nebraskans believe that medical marijuana should be legalized, Gov. Pete Ricketts has been steadfastly against any legalization.

*Michael Rosenblum is a former associate with Thompson Coburn. He now serves as Associate General Counsel at Shryne Group, Inc., the largest vertically integrated cannabis company in California.

Summer Associates Ben Goodman, Elise Gonzalez, Emma Lapp, Jeremy Miller and Yasmin Younis contributed to the August 2021 update.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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