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When and How 23 States Legalized Adult-Use Cannabis in the US: A Timeline With Current Tax Rates


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Ohio is the lone state where voters will decide a cannabis legalization ballot measure this November, but the outcome in the “Heart of it All” could provide a tipping point in the U.S.

We’ve heard the saying “As Ohio goes, so goes the nation” in many elections before this one. And while this saying points to the fact that no Republican has ever won the White House without Ohio, the 2023 election serves as a key indicator for cannabis reform.

Should voters approve Issue 2 on Nov. 7, not only would the Buckeye State be the 24th in the nation to legalize adult-use cannabis, but it would mean more than half of U.S. residents live in a legalized state: going from 49.2% to 52.7% of the population.

Here’s a timeline of the 23 states that have legalized adult-use cannabis so far and their current tax structures (detailed profiles of each state are included below in this article).


While Ohio voters attempted once before to legalize adult-use cannabis in November 2015, that reform effort ended in a sweeping defeat with 63.7% opposing the measure.

Specifically, the 2015 proposal was heavily attacked by major dailies—like the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Cincinnati Enquirer—for its inclusion of licensing rights to 10 investors backing the campaign, including Green Thumb Industries founder Ben Kovler, lead singer Nick Lachey of boyband 98 Degrees, and even NBA Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson.

Now, eight years later, Ohio’s adult-use ballot measures arrives with favorable polling numbers and with the backing of an established medical market, where licensed operators in the state have outpaced their patient base with an oversupply.

Should Ohioans legalize adult-use cannabis via Issue 2, they’d represent the 15th state in the nation to do so by election; the other nine adult-use states enacted reform via legislative action.

Notably, Ohio would be the first purple state—meaning each party has garnered majorities in two of the past four presidential elections—to vote in favor of adult-use legalization. However, Ohio has been a “red state” in recent election cycles and includes a current Republican trifecta in the state House, Senate and governorship.

While traditional red states like Alaska (2014), Arizona (2020), Montana (2020) and Missouri (2022) have passed adult-use legalization ballot measures, others, like Arkansas, South Dakota and North Dakota, were unsuccessful in their pursuits for reform in the 2022 election.

And although Ohio was among five states to decriminalize certain amounts of cannabis in 1975—only Oregon had decriminalized cannabis earlier than that—the Buckeye State has fallen behind the curve on adult-use reform. Will that change next Tuesday?

Here, Cannabis Business Times provides an in-depth timeline for the 23 states that have legalized adult-use cannabis heading into Ohio’s upcoming election:

2012: Colorado and Washington (Elections)

1.) Colorado represents the guinea pig of adult-use cannabis legalization. Not only did voters pass Amendment 64 with a 55.3% majority in the Nov. 6, 2012, election, but Colorado became the first state in the nation to launch commercial retail sales in January 2014. Licensed dispensaries sold more than $653 million in cannabis that inaugural year. To date, Coloradoans have spent more than $15 billion on cannabis in the past 10 years, generating more than $2.5 billion in tax revenue, according to the state’s Department of Revenue. Currently, there is a 15% excise tax on adult-use retail sales, which are exempt from the state sales tax, according to the department.

2.) Washington voters also legalized cannabis on Nov. 6, 2012, via a 55.6% majority for Initiative 502, but the state did not launch adult-use sales until July 14, 2014. Washington had the seventh largest cannabis market in the U.S. with nearly $1.3 billion in overall sales in 2022, according to the state’s Liquor and Cannabis Board. Washington’s 37% excise tax on cannabis sales remains the highest in the nation. The state also levies a 6.5% sales tax and allows a local tax option, according to the Washington Department of Revenue.

2014: Oregon and Alaska (Elections)

3.) Oregon voters passed Measure 91 with a 56.1% majority to legalize adult-use cannabis in the November 2014 election—a triumph that came two years after a previous attempt was defeated by a seven-point margin in the 2012 election. Oregan became the third state to launch a commercial retail program in October 2015. In 2022, Oregon represented the ninth largest cannabis market in the nation with just shy of $1 billion in overall cannabis sales, according to the state’s Liquor and Cannabis Commission (OLCC). The state currently levies a 17% excise tax on OLCC-licensed retailers in addition to a 3% local tax, according to the Oregon Department of Revenue.

4.) Alaska voters passed Measure 2 with a 53.2% majority to legalize adult-use cannabis in the November 2014 election. This triumph came 10 years after a legalization attempt was defeated by an 11.5-point margin in the 2004 election. Alaska launched a commercial adult-use retail program in October 2016. Since the state does not tax cannabis sales to end users, Alaska’s Department of Revenue does not keep records pertaining to retail transactions, a state official told CBT. Instead, Alaska levies a $50 per ounce tax ($800 per pound) on “mature” cannabis flower (or “proportionate part thereof”) sold or transferred from cultivation to retail facility, according to the department. “Immature” or abnormal flower is taxed at $25 per ounce, while trim is taxed at $15 per ounce.

2016: Nevada, California, Massachusetts and Maine (Elections)

5.) Nevada voters passed Question 2 with a 54.5% majority to legalize adult-use cannabis in the November 2016 election. Question 2’s passages came a decade after a failed attempt to legalize adult-use cannabis was defeated by a 12-point margin in the state’s 2006 election. Among four states to legalize adult-use cannabis in the 2016 election, Nevada was the quickest to roll out a commercial marketplace when sales launched in July 2017. In the six years following that launch, licensed Nevada dispensaries have sold more than $4.7 billion of cannabis, according to the state’s Department of Taxation. These sales have generated more than $700 million in revenue from the state’s 10% excise tax on adult-use retail and 15% excise tax on wholesale cannabis, according to the department.

6.) California voters passed Proposition 64 with a 57.1% majority to legalize adult-use cannabis in the November 2016 election. This win for reform came 20 years after California became the first state in the U.S. to legalize medical cannabis (Prop. 215) and six years after 2010’s failed adult-use initiative (Prop. 19). California launched adult-use sales in January 2018 and has since become the world’s largest cannabis market. In the 5 1/2 years following this launch, adult-use dispensaries recorded more than $23 billion in sales, according to the state’s Department of Tax and Fee Administration (CDTFA). These sales have generated more than $5 billion in total state tax revenue, including from a 15% excise tax at retail, a state sales tax that ranges from 7.25% to 10.75% depending on the area, and, until it was eliminated in July 2022, a weight-based cultivation tax (at $161 per pound), according to CDTFA.

7.) Massachusetts voters passed Question 4 with a 53.7% majority to legalize adult-use cannabis in the November 2016 election. Two years later, Massachusetts became the first state in the eastern half of the country to launch a commercial retail market in November 2018. In 2022, Massachusetts had the fifth largest cannabis market in the nation with nearly $1.8 billion in overall sales. In the four years since adult-use sales commenced, licensed dispensaries have recorded more than $6.4 billion in combined sales (adult use plus medical) under a retail program that levies a 10.75% excise tax, a 6.25% sales tax and up to a 3% local tax option, according to the state’s Cannabis Control Commission.

8.) Maine voters passed Question 1 with a 50.3% majority in the November 2016 election, representing the narrowest margin of victory for an adult-use legalization measure in the U.S. Following passage, it took Maine nearly four years before rolling out a commercial retail market in October 2020. Despite being one of the smallest markets in the nation, Maine’s adult-use landscape continues to rapidly grow with nearly $161 million in sales through the first nine months of 2023, representing a 41% increase from the same period in 2022, according to the state’s Office of Cannabis Policy. Maine levies a 10% excise tax on adult-use retail sales in addition to a weight-based cultivation tax, including a $335-per-pound rate on flower and $94-per-pound rate on trim, according to the state’s Department of Administrative and Financial Services.

2018: Vermont (Legislature) and Michigan (Election)

9.) Vermont became the first state in the nation to legalize adult-use cannabis via legislative action—rather than ballot initiative—on Jan. 22, 2018, when Republican Gov. Phil Scott signed H. 511 (Act 86) into law. The legislation did not originally set up a tax rate, but a 14% excise tax was levied at retail upon launching adult-use sales in October 2022 (nearly five years after Scott’s signing) in addition to a 6% sales tax and 1% local tax option, according to the state’s Agency of Administration. Vermont is on pace to surpass $100 million in sales this year, according to monthly data from the agency.

10.) Michigan voters passed Proposition 1 with a 55.9% majority to legalize adult-use cannabis in the November 2018 election. As the first legalized state in the Midwest, Michigan rolled out adult-use sales in December 2019 and quickly became the second largest market in the nation after California. Michigan dispensaries sold more than $2.2 billion of adult-use and medical cannabis through the first nine months of 2023 and are on pace to eclipse $3 billion for the first time this year, according to the state’s Cannabis Regulatory Agency. Currently, Michigan levies a 10% cannabis excise tax at retail in addition to a 6% sales tax, according to the state’s Department of Treasury.

2019: Illinois (Legislature)

11.) Illinois legalized adult-use cannabis via House Bill 1438, which Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker signed June 25, 2019. Six months later, the state launched a commercial adult-use retail market on Jan. 1, 2020. Licensed dispensaries sold more than $1 billion in overall cannabis (adult use plus medical) in that inaugural year. To date, Illinoisans have spent roughly $6.2 billion on cannabis in less than four years since the launch, according to the state’s Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. Illinois levies a 7% excise tax on wholesale cannabis, a 10% tax on flower or products with less than 35% THC, a 25% tax on any products with concentrations higher than 35% THC, and a 20% tax on products infused with THC, such as edibles, according to the state’s Department of Revenue.

2020: Arizona, Montana and New Jersey (Elections)

12.) Arizona voters passed Proposition 207 with a 60% majority to legalize adult-use cannabis in the November 2020 election—a triumph that came four years after an attempt was rejected by a 2.6-point margin in the 2016 election. After Prop. 207 was passed, Arizona became the quickest state in the nation to roll out a commercial retail program when adult-use sales launched 81 days later on Jan. 22, 2021. In the 2 1/2 years following this launch, licensed dispensaries have sold more than $3.5 billion in adult-use and medical cannabis, according to the state’s Department of Revenue. These sales have generated more than $362 million in revenue, primarily from the state’s 16% cannabis excise tax at retail in addition to a 5.6% sales tax, according to the department.

13.) Montana voters passed Initiative 190 with a 56.9% majority to legalize adult-use cannabis in the November 2020 election. Roughly 14 months later, Montana launched a commercial adult-use retail program on Jan. 1, 2022. Licensed dispensaries recorded more than $300 million in adult-use and medical cannabis sales in that inaugural year, according to the state’s Department of Revenue (DOR). Montana is averaging roughly $19 in adult-use cannabis sales per capita in 2023, which is bested only by Michigan (≈$23.50), Nevada (≈$20.50) and Colorado (≈$19.50). Since the beginning of 2022, Montana’s cannabis sales have generating more than $81 million in revenue, primarily from the state’s 20% excise tax on adult-use sales, according to the DOR. A local tax option of up to 3% on sales is determined at the county level.

14.) New Jersey voters passed Public Question 1 with 67.1% majority to legalize adult-use cannabis in the November 2020 election—the largest margin of victory at that time for any adult-use measure in the U.S. Notably, this was a legislatively referred constitutional amendment, meaning state lawmakers put the question before voters. After licensing delays, New Jersey commenced adult-use sales on April 21, 2022. Licensed dispensaries averaged nearly $61 million per month in adult-use and medical cannabis sales in the first half of 2023, a pace that represents a $732 million annual run rate, according to the state’s Cannabis Regulatory Agency (CRA). The state levies a 6.625% sales tax at adult-use retail plus a $1.52 per ounce “social equity excise fee” (SEEF) on usable cannabis sold by cultivators, according to the CRA.

2021: New York, New Mexico, Virginia and Connecticut (Legislatures)

15.) New York became to third state in the nation to legalize adult-use cannabis via legislative action—rather than ballot initiative—on March 31, 2021, when former Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed Senate Bill 854A into law. But a program launch was first delayed by Cuomo’s inaction on nominating regulatory heads, and then by a lack of funding for social equity licensees. Adult-use sales ended up commencing on Dec. 29, 2022, via one retailer: Housing Works Cannabis Co. And the program has been slow rolling since with just more than $83 million in sales through the first ninth months of 2023, according to the state’s Office of Cannabis Management. These sales represent a monthly average of 47 cents per capita—the lowest in the nation. New York’s legislation established a 13% excise tax at adult-use retail and imposed a THC-based tax structure on distributors: $0.03 per THC milligram for edibles; $0.008 per milligram on concentrates; and $0.005 per milligram on flower, according to the state’s Department of Taxation and Finance.

16.) New Mexico legalized adult-use cannabis via House Bill 2, which Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed April 12, 2021. The state launched a commercial adult-use retail market less than a year later on April 1, 2022. Licensed dispensaries sold more than $358 million in adult-use and medical cannabis in the latter eight months of that year, according to the state’s Regulation and Licensing Department. In 2023, licensed dispensaries are on pace to record more than $550 million in sales, representing one of the strongest programs in the nation on a per-capita basis. Currently, New Mexico’s cannabis excise tax is 12% of sales until June 1, 2025, and then gradually increases to 18% by July 1, 2030, according to the state’s Taxation and Revenue Department.

17.) Virginia became to first state in the Southern U.S. to legalize adult-use cannabis when former Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, signed House Bill 2312 into law on April 21, 2021. This legislation allowed adults 21 years and older to possess up to 1 ounce of cannabis on their person and cultivate up to four plants per household beginning in July 2021. However, the Democrats who orchestrated the bill lost control of the House and governor’s office in 2022. In turn, certain provisions in the legislation that required reenactment were never reenacted. This has left progress toward a commercially taxed and regulated marketplace at a standstill.

18.) Connecticut legalized adult-use cannabis by way of Senate Bill 1201, which Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont signed on June 22, 2021. The state launched adult-use sales more than 18 months later on Jan 10, 2023. Connecticut’s applicable cannabis tax rate at retail is determined by the type of product being sold: $0.00625 per milligram of THC for flower products; $0.0275 per milligram of THC for edible products; and $0.009 per milligram of THC for all other cannabis products, according to the state’s Department of Revenue Services. This is in addition to the state’s 6.35% state sales tax and 3% local municipal tax. In the first nine months of 2023, licensed retailers reported nearly $196 million in adult-use and medical cannabis sales, according to the state’s Department of Health and Human Services.

2022: Rhode Island (Legislature); Missouri and Maryland (Elections)

19.) Rhode Island legalized adult-use cannabis via passage of Senate Bill 2430, which Democratic Gov. Dan McKee signed into law on May 25, 2022. The state launched adult-use sales six months later on Dec. 1, 2022, imposing a 10% state excise tax in addition to a 7% sales tax and a 3% local excise tax at retail, according to the Rhode Island Department of Revenue. In the first 10 months following that launch, licensed dispensaries reported more than $86 million in combined adult-use and medical cannabis sales, according to the state’s Department of Business Regulation.

20.) Missouri voters passed Amendment 3 with a 53.1% majority to legalize adult-use cannabis in the November 2022 election, just four years after they had passed a medical cannabis initiative with a 65.6% majority. Planning for passage, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) published draft rules for an adult-use program just two days after the election. The state’s commercial retail program launched less than three months later on Feb. 3, 2023. Since that launch, business has been booming with licensed dispensaries reporting nearly $990 million in combined adult-use and medical cannabis sales through the first nine months of the year, according to the DHSS. The state imposes a 6% tax on adult-use cannabis at retail in addition to a 4.225% state sales tax and a local sales tax (up to ≈5.8%), according to the state’s Department of Revenue.

21.) Maryland voters passed Question 4 with a 67.2% majority to legalize adult-use cannabis in the November 2022 election—the largest margin of victory to date for an adult-use cannabis ballot proposal. This question was put before voters by the Maryland General Assembly, which established legislation to launch a commercial adult-use retail program that opened on July 1, 2023. In the first three months since this launch, licensed dispensaries reported nearly $270 million in combined adult-use and medical cannabis sales, according to the state’s Cannabis Administration (MCA). The state imposes a 9% sales-and-use tax on adult-use cannabis products at retail, according to the MCA.

2023: Delaware and Minnesota (Legislatures); and Ohio (Election)?

22.) Delaware legalized adult-use cannabis with the passage of House bills 1 and 2 in March 2023. While Democratic Gov. John Carney did not sign these bills, he chose to allow the complementary pieces of legislation to become law without his signature in late April. Two months later, Carney nominated a former law enforcement official to serve as “marijuana commissioner” for the state’s forthcoming adult-use program, which is expected to launch sales in late 2024 or early 2025. There will be a 15% excise tax at retail, according to H.B. 2.

23.) Minnesota legalized adult-use cannabis via passage of House File 100, which Democratic Gov. Tim Walz signed into law on May 30, 2023. Four months later, Walz announced he was appointing Erin DuPree as the state’s first director of its Office of Cannabis Management only to rescind the appointment the very next day after media reports shed light on DuPree’s hemp shop, claiming it sold cannabis products that were noncompliant under state law. The state’s forthcoming adult-use retail market is expected to launch sales in early 2025. There will be a 10% excise tax at retail, according to the state’s Department of Revenue.

24.) Ohio? Ohio could become the 24th state in the nation to legalize adult-use cannabis—and the third state to do so this year—should voters approve Issue 2 in the Nov. 7, 2023, election. The proposal includes a 10% excise tax rate at retail. The Ohio State University’s Drug Enforcement and Policy Center projected in August that a legalized market in Ohio would generate between $276 million and $403 million in annual tax revenue by the fifth year of commercial cannabis operations.

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Vic Parise
Vic Parise
03 nov 2023
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