The Ongoing Progression of Cannabis Legalisation in the USA

11th November 2021

The USA has seen an impressive progression of cannabis legislation over the last 12 months, with five states opting to legalise the use of recreational cannabis in November alone. According to recent reports, the momentum for reforms is going nowhere, with a number of additional states now in the process of approving new cannabis legislation. 

At the presidential election last years, voters in a number of states also decided whether or not to legalise medical or recreational cannabis. Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota all passed legislation to create a legal market for recreational cannabis. Mississippi and  South Dakota also legalised medical cannabis, with South Dakota becoming the first state to legalise both forms of use at the same time.

The cannabis reform wave has continued to sweep across the country with further states presenting a range of proposals in recent months.

South Dakota

Although South Dakota citizens voted to legalise recreational cannabis back in November, the future of the legislation is facing uncertain times. Back in February, Circuit Judge Christina Klinger overturned the results of the public vote claiming that the proposed legislation is unconstitutional.

An alternative proposal has since been floated by the South Dakota governor, Kristi Noem, who opposed recreational legalisation. The proposed bill would decriminalise the recreational use of cannabis, however, advocates maintain that the legislation doesn’t go far enough.

New York

After years of debating the subject, New York lawmakers finally agreed on legislation for the legalisation of recreational cannabis in March 2021. Multi-term Governor for New York, Andrew Cuomo, has long been an advocate for cannabis reforms in the state and has previously pushed for legalisation to be added to the annual budget.

The development of a legal recreational cannabis market was finally added to the April 2021 budget, with legalisation being approved by lawmakers at the end of March.


Lawmakers and the state governor of Virginia passed legislation to legalise recreational cannabis back in February 2021. In doing so, Virginia became the first Southern state to fully embrace cannabis. Despite this milestone, the legislation has gained criticism as implementation is set to be delayed until 2024.

However, after appeals – including from Democratic governor Ralph Northam – the state is expected to allow possession and home cultivation of cannabis from the 1st July.

New Mexico

New Mexico officially became the 17th state (plus Washington DC) in the USA to legalise the recreational use of cannabis for adults over the age of 21 on the 12th April 2021. The governor of the state, Michelle Lujan Grisham, signed two bills into law that would legalise cannabis and expunge some past cannabis convictions.

The bills were earlier approved by lawmakers on the 31st March, during a special session. The first bill, House Bill 2, will legalise and regulate the production, sales, and possession of cannabis. The second bill, Senate Bill 2, is set to enact the automatic review and expungement of criminal convictions for low-level cannabis offences such as possession.

Legal commercial sales are expected to begin no later than the 1st April 2022.


Connecticut also passed a legalisation bill this Summer, becoming the 18th (19th if we count South Dakota) state to vote for the legalisation of recreational cannabis. While recreational sales are not scheduled to come into force until the end of 2022, possession and home cultivation have been permitted since 1st July 2021.

Federal Cannabis Decriminalisation

In the background of state legalisations taking place around the country is the possibility of the federal decriminalisation of cannabis. During the presidential campaign last year, now-President Joe Biden confirmed that his administration would approve suitable legislation for decriminalisation.

Related Stories