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A state-by-state ranking of cannabis regulations

Barry Weisz October 4, 2018

Updated August 2019!

The Tracking Cannabis blog is proud to present our third state-by-state ranking of cannabis regulations, based on how favorable they are to the cannabis industry. Our guide, available here in PDF form, provides a state-by-state review of current cannabis law. In addition, you can find an update on the cannabis regulatory status of each state in the chart directly below.

Boasting the largest cannabis economy in the country, California remains in the top spot of our rankings. Although the state has experienced growing pains with respect to licensing and enforcement, California’s experience with both cannabis and cannabis regulation indicates a bright future.

After legalizing the adult use of cannabis on June 25, 2019, Illinois is the biggest riser in this year’s rankings, leaping to the #6 spot in the nation. Illinois’ expansive and canny approach to regulating this new state industry moves them slightly ahead of other states that recently permitted adult use of cannabis within their borders like Michigan.

Tracking Cannabis has noted a favorable environment for potential adult use legalization efforts in Maryland, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. While the southern part of the United States has moved more slowly on decriminalization and legalization efforts, promising signs in Louisiana and Texas led to commensurate jumps. States like North Carolina, South Dakota, Nebraska and Idaho remain the most restrictive and punishing in the nation.

Although it is not accounted for in our rankings, the gap between federal and state law has always been a challenging issue for state legislators and prosecutors. On July 23, 2019, California Sen. Kamala Harris proposed the MORE Act of 2019 to decriminalize marijuana federally and apply a sales tax to fund grant programs for individuals “most adversely impacted by the War on Drugs.” Whatever the final outcome of this legislation, the Democratic primaries may be the next place our national discussion on cannabis takes hold.

You can find our full rankings here in the PDF form, with detailed information about the cannabis environment in each state. To jump to the full regulatory summary for a particular state, just click on the state name in the chart below. 

For more information on the state of federal cannabis regulations, tune in to our CLE webinar on August 27. The presentation will cover the latest updates from Washington, D.C., how these updates may affect businesses in the future and what to look for as Congress continues to debate issues related to cannabis. 

Our methodology

Jurisdictions are ranked on the following factors:

  1. Cannabidiol (CBD) derived from marijuana plants (THC concentration equal to or greater than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis) – legality and required qualifications;
  2. Medical cannabis – legality and required qualifications;
  3. Recreational cannabis – legality and issuance of commercial cannabis licenses;
  4. Non-profit cannabis entities – permissibility and requirements;
  5. Commercial cannabis licenses – availability, caps and restrictions;
  6. Cannabis regulatory agencies – authority and qualifications;
  7. Developments and trends – support for ongoing cannabis legalization measures; and
  8. Business opportunities – number of operators, consumers and untapped industry potential.

Note: This ranking is subjective, and different factors weigh more heavily in different states. All of the information regarding each state is current as of the date of this posting. However, laws are constantly changing and with each election the statutes in any particular state may also change. In addition, this list does not consider federal laws, which may be consistent on a national level but can be applied selectively on a state level. 

State-by-State Cannabis Regulation Rankings Comparison
State Rankings Note


New Ranking: 1

Old Ranking: 1

Change: 0

California remains No. 1 as the largest cannabis market in the nation. While the state’s regulatory scheme has hit some stumbling blocks, California’s experience with regulation, history of cannabis acceptance and lack of criminal and civil restrictions on possession and sale keep the state in the top spot.


New Ranking: 2

Old Ranking: 2

Change: 0

Nevada’s long history of legalization and permissive licensing approach to medical cannabis allow the state to narrowly hold onto the second spot in our rankings.


New Ranking: 3

Old Ranking: 4

Change: +1

Colorado continues to expand its permissive approach to cannabis, and Massachusetts has been a bit slow to implement its legalization scheme. The two states are very close.


New Ranking: 4

Old Ranking: 3

Change: -1

Although Massachusetts has yet to open dispensaries in some urban areas, the overall reaction to the state’s adult use legalization has been promising.


New Ranking: 5

Old Ranking: 5

Change: 0

Too much of a good thing? Oregon’s marijuana surplus is likely merely a market correction, but an overcrowded market has made it more difficult to succeed in the commercial environment. From a legal standpoint, the state is still among the most progressive in the nation.


New Ranking: 6

Old Ranking: 18

Change: +12

Illinois skyrockets up our rankings because of HB 1438, the 2019 bill that legalized adult use in the state. With its permissive laws for visitors and intelligently constructed plan to make medical dispensaries the first adult use dispensaries, the state seems primed for an effective transition and the opportunity to bring in massive business from neighboring states.


New Ranking: 7

Old Ranking: 6

Change: -1

Despite adopting the legalization of adult use in 2018, Michigan is behind Illinois in its regulatory approach, and recreational sales must wait for 2020. A slower approach is not necessarily a problem, but the state is squarely behind Illinois at this time.


New Ranking: 8

Old Ranking: 9

Change: +1

When we last checked in, Maine was on the verge of adult use legalization. Gov. Janet Mills has since signed a bill launching adult use sales in 2020. Maine’s regulatory approach is quite restrictive, and many questions remain, but the state is moving in a clear direction.


New Ranking: 9

Old Ranking: 7

Change: -2

Not much has changed in Alaska, but the state offers recreational use and seems open to expanding public use of marijuana.


New Ranking: 10

Old Ranking: 8

Change: -2

Although Washington features legal adult use, its regulatory approach is restrictive and there are significant questions about the relative health of its cannabis industry.


New Ranking: 11

Old Ranking: 15

Change: +4

Vermont legalized adult use in 2018, and is slowly moving towards a regulated industry and retail sales, but not quite as quickly as other states who have embraced legalization more comprehensively.

New Mexico

New Ranking: 12

Old Ranking: 16

Change: +4

With a governor motivated to usher in adult use, and lawmakers behind her, New Mexico has a good chance of being the next state to legalize adult use marijuana.


New Ranking: 13

Old Ranking: 14

Change: +1

Maryland’s robust medical marijuana regulations and strong bipartisan support for adult use legislation make it one of the states to watch in the next few years.

District of Columbia

New Ranking: 14

Old Ranking: 10

Change: -4

In D.C. cannabis is legal for adult and medical use, but commercial sale is still prohibited, and possession on federal lands remains illegal.


New Ranking: 15

Old Ranking: 22

Change: +7

Like New Mexico, Pennsylvania has a legislature and governor in support of adult use, and a significant budget gap that may motivate legislative action. Stay tuned.

New Jersey

New Ranking: 16

Old Ranking: 13

Change: -3

Gov. Phil Murphy supports legislation and the legislature is also controlled by Democrats who may be motivated to advance the governor’s agenda. A promising state of affairs.

New York

New Ranking: 17

Old Ranking: 11

Change: -6

New York’s famously slow political process drops the state five spots from last year, and the complications of regulation in the country’s largest city present challenges to any potential adult use legalization.


New Ranking: 18

Old Ranking: 17

Change: -1

Although Hawaii’s current governor does not favor adult use legalization, the state has a long history of supporting medical cannabis.


New Ranking: 19

Old Ranking: 20

Change: +1

Influenced by adult use legalization in Massachusetts, Connecticut lawmakers have been making noises about passing such legislation, although it would likely not happen until 2020 at the earliest.

Rhode Island

New Ranking: 20

Old Ranking: 29

Change: +9

Rhode Island’s rise is half due to inactivity in the states ahead of it, and half due to Gov. Gina Raimondo’s support of the legalization of adult use. The state is still behind some of its New England neighbors on this front.


New Ranking: 21

Old Ranking: 34

Change: +13

Democratic legislators have been pushing the legalization of adult use in 2018 and 2019, and the state seems poised to be the first southern state to legalize adult use. Questions still linger about how quickly that might happen, however.

New Hampshire

New Ranking: 22

Old Ranking: 31

Change: +9

New Hampshire may be headed for a full vote on adult use legalization next year, and the Democratic party in the state has made legalization part of their platform.


New Ranking: 23

Old Ranking: 19

Change: -4

Although legislative efforts have failed on adult use, Montana has fairly lenient medical marijuana laws.


New Ranking: 24

Old Ranking: 12

Change: -12

While Florida’s legalization of medical marijuana was an important step, Republican lawmakers seem actively hostile to adult use legalization.


New Ranking: 25

Old Ranking: 27

Change: +2

A very strict approach to legal medical marijuana is counter-balanced by a governor who supports the legalization of adult use.


New Ranking: 26

Old Ranking: 33

Change: +7

Although a ballot initiative to legalize adult use cannabis failed in 2015, and Ohio has been slow to expand the availability of medical marijuana, the state looks poised to legalize CBD sales.


New Ranking: 27

Old Ranking: 28

Change: +1

Oklahoma’s slight bump is due to the expansion of its medical marijuana program, but there appears to be no appetite for adult use legalization at this time.


New Ranking: 28

Old Ranking: 23

Change: -5

Although 2019 saw Arkansas put in place a relatively lenient medical marijuana scheme, nothing indicates adult use legalization is likely to occur in the next decade.

North Dakota

New Ranking: 29

Old Ranking: 24

Change: -5

North Dakota gets credit for a progressive medical use program, but the state’s stiff criminal possession penalties are troubling while other states move towards decriminalization.


New Ranking: 30

Old Ranking: 25

Change: -5

Arizona’s medical marijuana program will be a decade old next year, but strong corporate lobbying defeated a 2016 ballot initiative that would have legalized adult use.


New Ranking: 31

Old Ranking: 26

Change: -5

Delaware’s governor, John Carney, is a determined opponent of adult use legalization. The state’s medical marijuana program is extremely small.

West Virginia

New Ranking: 32

Old Ranking: 21

Change: -11

The slow development of the state’s medical marijuana program, and restrictive regulatory approach drops it ten places from last year’s rankings.


New Ranking: 33

Old Ranking: 30

Change: -3

Missouri legalized medical cannabis in 2018, but has been slow to implement their program.


New Ranking: 34

Old Ranking: 32

Change: -2

Utah legalized medical marijuana in 2018, and the current anti-adult use legalization governor is not running for reelection in 2020. Still, the state’s conservative approach to drugs and alcohol may be the bigger obstacle to adult use legalization.


New Ranking: 35

Old Ranking: 45

Change: +10

Republican legislators have taken a common-sense approach in expanding the state’s medical marijuana program, resulting in a solid jump from last year.


New Ranking: 36

Old Ranking: 38

Change: +2

Wyoming’s restrictive approach at least makes exceptions for CBD. A favorable public view of medical and adult use legalization give reason to think the state is ahead of others with such laws.


New Ranking: 37

Old Ranking: 41

Change: +4

Kentucky has yet to legalize medical use, but bipartisan efforts to bring recent legislation inspire some optimism.


New Ranking: 38

Old Ranking: 46

Change: +8

New legislation has expanded the state’s restrictive medical cannabis program.


New Ranking: 39

Old Ranking: 46

Change: +8

Slow momentum towards expansion of the state’s marijuana laws accounts for its rise in our rankings, as well as groups determined to get an initiative on the ballot in what may be a favorable electoral climate.


New Ranking: 40

Old Ranking: 36

Change: -4

Pro: Iowa’s Republican House was willing to expand the state’s extremely limited medical marijuana program. Con: Governor Kim Reynolds voted the legislation down. Pro: Iowa allows CBD. Con: There does not appear to be much support in the state for adult use legalization at this time.


New Ranking: 41

Old Ranking: 44

Change: +3

Virginia allows CBD use, but has not embraced decriminalization. A new governor in 2021 could alter the state’s landscape.


New Ranking: 42

Old Ranking: 35

Change: -7

A medical marijuana bill died in the committee phase, and Alabama has been slow to adopt decriminalization.


New Ranking: 43

Old Ranking: 39

Change: -4

Wisconsin does permit the production of industrial hemp, but otherwise CBD requires a written certification, and other use is illegal.


New Ranking: 44

Old Ranking: 49

Change: +5

Although Kansas is a long way from permitting medical marijuana usage, the state’s governor is a supporter. CBD is now permitted in the state, although it must contain zero THC.


New Ranking: 45

Old Ranking: 40

Change: -5

Indiana has not legalized any type of marijuana, and the current governor is strongly opposed to the legalization of both adult use and medical marijuana.

South Carolina

New Ranking: 46

Old Ranking: 42

Change: -4

South Carolina permits very limited use of CBD, but is otherwise regressive when it comes to legalization for any purpose.


New Ranking: 47

Old Ranking: 43

Change: -4

Tennessee allows CBD with severe restrictions, but medical cannabis advocates have not been able to get traction in the legislature.

North Carolina

New Ranking: 48

Old Ranking: 37

Change: -11

North Carolina has not even touched on adult use legalization, and chances of the state legalizing medical marijuana appear bleak.

South Dakota

New Ranking: 49

Old Ranking: 48

Change: -1

While CBD is permitted in South Dakota, the state’s draconian restrictions in their criminal law as other states decriminalize possession keep it near the basement of our list.


New Ranking: 50

Old Ranking: 51

Change: +1

Little progress in this state, but at least new Gov. Brad Little supports limited access to CBD.


New Ranking: 51

Old Ranking: 50

Change: -1

Nebraska’s intensely strict prohibitions on cannabis remain in place.


Barry Weisz is the co-chair of Thomson Coburn’s Cannabis practice. He serves as a corporate strategist and outside general counsel to companies in a variety of industries. Thompson Coburn’s Cannabis group represents a variety of clients in the cannabis industry.

Thompson Coburn advises clients on state laws governing the business of cannabis to facilitate compliance with those state laws. Federal laws concerning cannabis currently conflict with state laws in states that have legalized cannabis or possession of cannabis. Although federal enforcement policy may at times defer to these states’ laws and not enforce conflicting federal laws, interested businesses and individuals should be aware that compliance with state law in no way assures compliance with federal law, and there is a risk that conflicting federal laws may be enforced in the future. In addition to this Cannabis-specific note, readers should review Thompson Coburn’s Conditions of Use / Disclaimers page containing other important information.