(Last Updated On: June 10, 2015)

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Since the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug, it is illegal under federal law to possess, use, buy, sell or cultivate marijuana. This act claims that marijuana has a high potential for abuse and has no acceptable medical use. As we now know, the last half of that statement is patently untrue.

In 2012 and 2014 respectively, Washington and Colorado jumped the gun and passed initiatives to decriminalize and legalize cannabis. Since then, both have opened the first legal marijuana markets in the U.S. Legal retail sales began last year and things seem to be settling into place, albeit slowly. The medical marijuana communities in several states have also shown the benefits cannabis can have for illnesses, which is one of many factors that have led to a major shift in public opinion regarding legalization.

A handful of states are now following Washington and Colorado’s path, getting closer and closer to legalization every election cycle. For now, it’s looking as though the west coast is the epicenter of the movement, but that may change by 2016.

While the federal government seems as though it still won’t budge on reclassifying cannabis (currently a Schedule 1 drug), local governments across the country have taken small steps towards ending prohibition. Many cities are passing laws that either have decriminalized small amounts of marijuana or made them a low priority for law enforcement officials.

Here are four states that are preparing for legalization pushes. Perhaps within a few short years, we’ll see up to ten U.S. states that have legalized the use of marijuana.


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As California was first state to legalize medical marijuana back in 1996, they’re poised to take the plunge to legalize the plant entirely. They made a previous attempt to legalize in 2010 with Prop 19, but only garnered 46% of the popular vote. All signs point to a different result for 2016, as polling is hovering in the mid-50’s. With 38 million people, a green California would be a significant victory in the move towards national legalization.


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Nevadans approved medical marijuana in 1998 and again in 2000, but voted down decriminalization in 2002 and legalization in 2006. But since then, the state has effectively decriminalized possession of less than one ounce and it’s now been a whole decade since that last loss at the polls. Either marijuana will be legal by Election Day 2016 thanks to the legislature or the voters will decide the question at the polls.


Vermont state officials have expressed openness to the idea, and a May 2014 poll found 57% support for legalization. Last year, the legislature approved a RAND study on the impacts of legalization, which estimates that legal marijuana could bring the state $20 to $70 million in annual pot tax revenues.


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Massachusetts activists have been laying the groundwork for legalization for years. Groups such as MassCann/NORML and the Drug Policy Forum Of Massachusetts have run a series of marijuana reform “public policy questions” in various electoral districts since 2000 and they have never lost. The questions are a clear indicator where voter sentiment lies.

The state has also seen successful decriminalization and medical marijuana initiatives, in 2008 and 2012, respectively. Both times, the initiatives were approved with 63% of the vote.

Written by Brian Martin