Flower Market



Cannabis legality in the United States.

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“Where is cannabis legal in the US?”


As of 2018, 33 States plus the DC and the territories of Guam, Puerto Rico, the Northern Mariana Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands have legalized medical cannabis.


These states have decriminalized possession and legalized cannabis for medical use.

[links to .gov resources and policies]











New Hampshire

New Mexico

New Jersey

New York



Rhode Island



These states have also legalized cannabis for recreational use.

[links to .gov resources and policies]



District of Columbia









“How has the War on Drugs impacted today’s cannabis industry?”


The War on Drugs resulted in profoundly unequal long-term social and economic outcomes across racial groups in the United States, manifesting in patterns of racial discrimination by law enforcement and disproportionate misery and incarceration suffered by communities of color.

Today, the legal cannabis market is positioned to generate billions in value for wealthy investors doing the same thing that generations of minorities have been locked up for.


Cannabis in the US

In the 1910s, the Mexican Revolution saw populations of Mexican migrants arriving in the U.S. to escape the conflict. They brought over cannabis, then called marihuana, which had been used for centuries for medicinal and recreational purposes. Southern states that were receiving these migrant populations became increasingly agitated by their presence, and used cannabis as a means of arresting and deporting them.

“As Americans sought a pretext to vilify this new immigrant community, they found an ideal culprit in marijuana…fear and anti-immigrant sentiment prompted state-level bans on cannabis…”

City & County of San Francisco Cannabis Equity Report

El Paso, Texas became the first U.S. city to ban marijuana in 1915. City officials started rounding up Mexicans who smoked marijuana and had them deported. At this time, newspapers and tabloids were building a campaign against the plant, much of it grounded in these racist ideologies. source

“Newspapers ran headlines speaking of the "Mexican menace" or the "marijuana menace" and claimed Mexican men were going crazy from smoking marijuana and killing people.”

The real reason marijuana is illegal in the United States; Salon 2015

Cannabis legislation, like Marijuana Tax Act (1937), began to prohibit personal use of cannabis outside of specific medical or industrial purposes. The Boggs Act (1952) and the Narcotics Control Act (1956) saw the federal government imposing minimum prison sentences for drug crimes, including possession of any amount of cannabis.



The War on Drugs

These policies escalated in the War on Drugs in the 1970s. President Nixon presented the agenda alongside a focus on broader drug eradication, interdiction and incarceration.

“We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

John Ehrlichman, counsel and Assistant to President Richard Nixon, on the War on Drugs, 2016

Federal studies on the effects of the War of Drugs show disproportionate outcomes for people of color, particularly African Americans in the criminal justice system:

  • African Americans and whites use drugs at similar rates, but the imprisonment rate of African Americans for drug charges is 6 times that of whites.

  • African Americans represent 12.5% of illicit drug users, but 29% of those arrested for drug offenses and 33% of those incarcerated in state facilities for drug offenses.

  • Having a criminal record in the U.S. makes it more difficult to find employment and those who have been incarcerated earn 10 to 40 percent less than similar workers without a history of incarceration.

  • Parental incarceration rates for African Americans are 2 to 7 times higher for Black and Hispanic children than White children, and parental incarceration is a strong risk factor for a number of adverse outcomes, including but not limited to mental health problems, school dropout, and unemployment.

    NAACP Criminal Justice Fact Sheet



The war on drugs has resulted in the unequal systemic access to opportunities, aid and support for minority cannabis entrepreneurs. In particular, the policy has magnified systemic barriers to entry such as access to capital, financing and real estate.

(How San Francisco is implementing policies address equity challenges)


“What is the broader public opinion around cannabis legalization?”


Today about 6 in 10 Americans support the legalization of cannabis. This reflects a broader generational and political realignment of values and perceptions toward cannabis.


Public opinion around cannabis became increasingly positive in the 1990s and 2000s, a trend that has continued to the present.

In 2000, 31% of Americans supported the legalization of cannabis. By 2013, 58% of those polled supported legalization. Much of this shift in public opinion is attributed to generational acceptance and an increase in the number of individuals who have tried or used cannabis. (Pew Research)



“Majorities of Millennials (74%), Gen Xers (63%) and Baby Boomers (54%) say the use of marijuana should be legal. Members of the Silent Generation continue to be the least supportive of legalization (39%), but they have become more supportive in the past year.”

(Pew Research)

Support for legalization tends to fall along political lines. Self-reported democrats and independents tend to favor broader legalization, while conservatives are typically less favorable toward broad legalization.