Does Your State Say Adult Use Marijuana or Recreational Marijuana?

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As cannabis laws have come to fruition in recent years, there has been different terminology on the ballots. For states that have legalized marijuana, the language used to describe non-medical use has expanded beyond medical or recreational. Understanding these phrases are important as more regions adopt weed-friendly legislation.

“Recreational marijuana” is simply the use of cannabis without any kind of medical justification. You don’t need a medical diagnosis or card to use; in fact, the expectation is that marijuana will be used recreationally — for fun.

“Adult use marijuana” is centered on the idea that consumers go to cannabis dispensaries for more than two reasons — it’s inclusive to all groups of people who use marijuana beyond recreational or medical use. If you go to a dispensary, there’s no expectation that you fit in this either-or category and no assumption that you’re a binary user.

These two phrases are essentially the same: neither grants more or less restrictions on cannabis use, they only carry different connotations.

What kind of language does your state use?


Phrase: Neither

Alaska doesn’t follow any binary language rules. Cannabis has been legal for recreational use since 2014, since Alaska Measure 2 aimed to “tax and regulate the production, sale, and use of marijuana.” The law doesn’t specifically state if it’s adult use or recreational, so in the eyes of Alaska, legal cannabis looks all the same.


Phrase: Adult Use Marijuana

Cannabis was a clear winner in the 2016 election. California passed an amendment legalizing marijuana in November, in a proposition titled the “Adult Use of Marijuana Act.” The initiative passed by 57% of the voting population, confirming the process of controlling, regulating, and taxing all over-21 marijuana activity.


Phrase: Recreational

Considered one of the pioneers in the marijuana industry, Colorado’s 2012 Amendment 64 used the word “recreational” to describe their policy change. The law treats cannabis consumption similarly to alcohol, with an age limit, licensure, and driving limits, as well as regulations on retail edibles and their concentration.

The legalization has prompted cannabis tourism, with visitors flooding the region for their fix of flower — you don’t have to be a resident to enjoy these perks, as any person over 21 can possess up to an ounce. This state has a different set of guidelines for medical and recreational use, which is inclusive of two different markets. Public consumption was also recently passed, so users are not restricted to using in the privacy of their homes.


Phrase: Neither

Maine is another state that created their own language for their legalization measure. Their initiative focused on the use and sale of “retail marijuana,” alluding to adult use, purposely ambiguous. This was a hard fought campaign — the act passed by less than one percentage point, prompting a recount by those in opposition. As of December the law has stuck; cannabis is still the clear winner.


Phrase: Recreational

Massachusetts voted to authorize recreational marijuana use, including that phrase, in November 2016, making non-clinical marijuana accessible for adults. They have followed the trend of “legalization, regulation, and taxation.” They’re taking their time, though: everything from flower to concentrates to edibles will be available for purchase starting July 2018.


Phrase: Neither

The recent “Initiative to Regulate and Tax Marijuana” passed on Election Day 2016, and doesn’t place a large focus on terminology. The measure just seeks to include legal possession for all adults over 21.


Phrase: Adult Use

Thanks to Measure 91, adult use of marijuana is legal — an accumulation of ratification efforts starting in 1986. After several tries, including a failed attempt in 2012, the region aims to be all-inclusive of cannabis users, from medicinal to recreational and beyond. The state is still adjusting to their licensing laws, and have recently turned to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) to build a structure for their bud sales and structure.


Phrase: Neither

The state of Washington did not disclose whether or not their reform legislature would be “recreational” or “adult” use, but it got the job done in legalizing all marijuana consumption and regulated possession, distribution, production, and delivery. In fact, Initiative 502 was connected to the 81% voter turnout, which was the national high in the November 2012 election.

District of Columbia

Phrase: Neither

Though not a state, the district of Washington, D.C. legalized the recreational use of minimal amounts of marijuana in 2014. It’s harder to access, however, because both recreational and medical cannabis is barred from commercial sale.

When it comes to “adult use marijuana” or “recreational marijuana,” the distinction is slim. The difference is both a matter of semantics and an expression of non-binary ideals. However, based on region, the legalization of all use cannabis comes with a dictionary all of its own. The good news: regardless of terminology, these states did the good deed — they voted, got a law passed, and are now able to enjoy the perks of legal cannabis.

What’s the status of cannabis in your state?

State Status
Alabama Medical use of non-psychoactive CBD oil only
Alaska Legal
Arizona Medical only
Arkansas Medical only
California Legal
Connecticut Decriminalized: medical only
Delaware Decriminalized: medical only
Florida Medical only
Georgia Medical only
Hawaii Medical only
Idaho Illegal
Illinois Decriminalized
Indiana Illegal
Iowa Medical only
Kansas Illegal
Kentucky Illegal
Louisiana Medical only
Maine Legal
Maryland Decriminalized: medical only
Massachusetts Legal
Michigan Medical only
Minnesota Decriminalized: medical only
Mississippi Decriminalized
Missouri Illegal
Montana Medical only
Nebraska Decriminalized
Nevada Legal
New Hampshire Medical only
New Jersey Medical only
New Mexico Medical only
New York Decriminalized
North Carolina Decriminalized
North Dakota Medical only
Ohio Decriminalized: medical only
Oklahoma Medical only
Oregon Legal
Pennsylvania Medical
Rhode Island Decriminalized: medical only
South Carolina Illegal
South Dakota Illegal
Tennessee Illegal
Texas Illegal
Utah Illegal
Vermont Decriminalized: medical only
Virginia Illegal
Washington Legal
West Virginia Illegal
Wisconsin Medical only
Wyoming Illegal
District Status
District of Columbia Legal