When my friend Jack was 19 years old, he travelled to Tucson, Arizona as part of an immersive academic program for his university. While he was there, Jack purchased a beautiful, kaleidoscopic, rainbow-colored glass pipe that he smoked cannabis out of and quickly grew attached to. The problem? In Arizona, cannabis is legal for medical use, but not for recreation. He quickly realized that he would face problems at the airport on his way home from the program, and despite his best efforts to rid the pipe of all cannabis evidence — including marinating it in a Ziploc filled with isopropyl alcohol — he decided to play it safe and dumped the beautiful pipe in a trash can, never to be seen or smoked from again.

A moment of silence for the kaleidoscope pipe.

If only Jack had known which states allow recreational cannabis use and which ones do not, perhaps he would have been able to avoid this predicament in the first place and his kaleidoscope pipe would still be with us. But Jack is not the only one who finds himself in this situation — many of us who travel need to know about cannabis laws in the U.S., and it can be hard to keep track of which states allow cannabis recreationally, which ones allow cannabis medically, and which ones do not permit it at all. This article will serve as a guide to providing you with the information you need to know about cannabis laws across our nation.

Let’s cover recreational cannabis first — recreational cannabis is currently legal in ten states nationwide:

States in which Medical Cannabis is Legal:

  • Arizona (2010)
  • Arkansas (2016)
  • Connecticut (2012)
  • Florida (2017)
  • Hawaii (2000)
  • Illinois (2014)
  • Louisiana (2015)
  • Maryland (2014)
  • Minnesota (2014)
  • Missouri (2018)
  • Montana (2004)
  • New Hampshire (2013)
  • New Jersey (2010)
  • New Mexico (2007)
  • New York (2014)
  • North Dakota (2016)
  • Ohio (2016)
  • Oklahoma (2018)
  • Pennsylvania (2016)
  • Rhode Island (2006)
  • Utah (2018)
  • West Virginia (2018)

While some states do not allow cannabis for medical use, they do allow CBD oil, an acronym which stands for cannabidiol oil. CBD is the second-most active ingredient in cannabis, but not one which can solely activate the “high” cannabis is known for — that would be tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. The states in which CBD oil is legal for medical use includes:

States in which Medical CBD Oil is Legal:

  • Alabama (2016)
  • Georgia (2015)
  • Indiana (2018)
  • Iowa (2014)
  • Kentucky (2014)
  • Mississippi (2014)
  • North Carolina (2015)
  • South Carolina (2014)
  • Tennessee (2015)
  • Texas (2014)
  • Virginia (2015)
  • Wisconsin (2014)
  • Wyoming (2015)

However, there are constraints on the kind of CBD oil one can legally have in one’s possession. In some states like South Carolina, CBD oil can have as much as 0.9% THC content; in other states like Indiana, oil cannot rise above a strict 0.3% THC content.

The only four states in which any kind of cannabis activity, medical or otherwise, is completely illegal are: 

States in which Cannabis is Illegal:

  • Idaho
  • Kansas (technically legal; see below for details)
  • Nebraska
  • South Dakota

Still, the legislative campaign for medical marijuana runs strong in these states — Idaho, for example, attempted to organize a ballot vote in both 2012 and 2014. Why have the efforts in these states failed up until this point? In some cases, cannabis advocates were unable to collect enough signatures to petition to get cannabis legality on the voting ballot; in others, filibusters kept legislation from passing through. As for the state of Kansas, politicians found a loophole by technically legalizing CBD oil for medical use in 2018, but only if the CBD oil contains 0% THC. This would seem to be reasonable enough — except nearly all CBD oil products contain trace amounts of THC, thereby making the law effectively useless for those with medical needs.

So what would happen to a person who might be found possessing cannabis in a state in which marijuana is illegal? Well, things get a lot more nuanced here, as repercussions become entirely dependent on the state. For instance, in Maine, law states that a person can carry up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana, whereas in Connecticut, a person can only carry 0.5 ounces. The punishment for exceeding such an amount in Connecticut can be a $150 fine, but in states like South Dakota where cannabis is illegal altogether, carrying cannabis at all is punishable with up to 5 years in prison. Things get even more complicated when it comes to crossing state lines possessing cannabis — while an individual may be allowed to possess 1 ounce of cannabis in one state, crossing into another where less than 1 ounce is legal means that person is immediately in violation of the law. For business owners looking to transport significant amounts of cannabis, they must first obtain business licenses from the state as well as local authorities. In a more extreme case, transporting cannabis from a legal state into an illegal state can result in federal prosecution, since cannabis is still illegal nationwide.

Slowly, citizens are pushing for cannabis “decriminalization,” a term which refers to reforming our prison systems by treating cannabis use as a “misdemeanor” or “civil violation” instead of a “felony.” Whereas felonies are punishable with more than a year of jail time, lower statues like misdemeanors and civil violations are typically punishable with fines, community service, and limited time in prison. The goal with this initiative is to prevent non-violent drug users from receiving disproportionately long jail convictions and instead reserving jail for violent criminals alone.

With time, the tides seem to be turning in favor of cannabis legality. There are currently 32 states in which cannabis is legal for recreational or medical use, and 13 states in which CBD oil is available for medical treatment (excluding Kansas). While Illinois is technically a state in which cannabis is legal for medical use only, lawmakers have already signed a bill for recreational cannabis use that will take effect in 2020. With efforts for accessible cannabis increasing and public awareness on the incline, it looks like U.S. law is moving in favor of legality.

Sources for this article include the Drug Enforcement Administration, Newsweek, The UN Office on Drugs and Crime, CBS, and the Chicago Tribune.