Decriminalization trend means 1 in 3 Americans now lives in a state where marijuana is legal

A budtender, right, shows cannabis buds to a customer at a marijuana dispensary in Desert Hot Springs, Calif., in January 2018.
Robyn Beck | AFP | Getty Images 2018

In early December, the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time considered and passed legislation to legalize marijuana and redress decades of harm caused by the War on Drugs. While Senate leaders say they will not consider it, the MORE Act signals a national shift in attitudes toward decriminalizing some drugs. 

One in 3 Americans now lives in a state where possession of a small amount of marijuana is legal. 

In November, voters approved recreational marijuana use in Arizona, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota. They approved medical use in South Dakota and Mississippi. In Oregon, where recreational marijuana has been legal since 2014, voters went a step further by allowing medical use of psilocybin, the active ingredient in “magic mushrooms.” They also made possession of small amounts of other drugs, including cocaine, a misdemeanor punishable only by a $100 fine.

As recently as eight years ago, only California had opened the door to medical marijuana, which it approved in 1996. Recreational use of marijuana is now legal in 15 states and medical use is legal in Minnesota and 34 other states.  

Create a More Connected Minnesota

MPR News is your trusted resource for the news you need. With your support, MPR News brings accessible, courageous journalism and authentic conversation to everyone - free of paywalls and barriers. Your gift makes a difference.

Advocates for legalizing cannabis say regulating the market makes the product safer, reduces violence associated with the illegal drug trade and allows states to collect tax revenue. Calls for drug law reform also increasingly have focused on the disproportionate number of African Americans and Latinos arrested and convicted for drug crimes. 

Wednesday at 9 a.m., MPR News host Kerri Miller will speak with a marijuana regulator and a drug policy researcher and take listener calls about decriminalizing marijuana and the steps some states are taking to address racial equity through changes to drug law. 


  • Shaleen Title is a member of the Cannabis Control Commission in Massachusetts. 

  • Beau Kilmer is director of the RAND drug policy research center. 

Subscribe to the MPR News with Kerri Miller podcast on: Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify or RSS

To listen to the full conversation you can use the audio player above.