States in the US where marijuana is illegal

Published on December 10, 2021 · Last updated May 9, 2024

A majority of US states have legalized either medical or recreational cannabis, or have decriminalized it, despite it being illegal at the federal level. But some states continue to prohibit it altogether and have harsh penalties for the possession, consumption, and growing of cannabis.

Many of these states are predominantly conservative, and follow the lead of the federal government, which has outlawed the plant for more than 80 years.

In many illegal states, possession of three ounces or less can result in six months to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. Cannabis cultivation often gets treated as distribution, with penalties of multiple years in jail and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines, just for growing a few plants. Subsequent offenses for possession, consumption, or cultivation are even harsher.

What is cannabis prohibition?

Cannabis first came to the Americas in the 1500s with Spanish Conquistadors, and popularity of it grew in the United States in the 1800s as it was used in over-the-counter medical tinctures claiming to cure a variety of ailments. Hundreds of studies were conducted showing the benefits of the plant.

US political opinion started to turn against the plant in the early 1900s, as white politicians who opposed immigration tied the plant to Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans. In 1913, California outlawed the plant, and many states soon followed. 

In 1937, the Marijuana Tax Act was passed, the first major federal law that restricted marijuana. The Controlled Substances Act followed in 1970, further restricting the plant, and classifying it as a Schedule I substance, where it is today.

Beginning in 1996, prohibition started to unravel when California legalized marijuana for medical usage, defying federal law. Many states soon followed, and in 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize the plant for recreational use. 

However, despite a majority of states going against federal law and legalizing cannabis for medical or recreational purposes, some states have not done so and continue to have harsh penalties for the possession, consumption, and growing of cannabis.

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Marijuana legalization map

  • adult use
  • illegal
  • medical

States where marijuana is illegal

StateLegalization statusAdult use?Medical marijuana?Decriminalized statewide?
North CarolinaIllegalNoNoYes
South CarolinaIllegalNoNoNo

Legalization guide

For a closer look at the types of legalization, check out our dedicated guides for each.

Recreational states

Medical states

Illegal states

Learn more about marijuana legalization and decriminalization in the US

Here are some additional resources, news, and references for marijuana policy, decriminalization, and legalization efforts in the United States.

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