Do A Majority Of Americans Live In States With Legal Marijuana

Photo Credit: Northeastern

For the first time this week, Californians can celebrate “4/20,” the unofficial pot holiday, by purchasing legal recreational cannabis at dispensaries across the state.

Marijuana buffs trace the April 20th date to a story about five high school students in Marin County, Calif., who “created a ritual for getting high. They would meet at 4:20,” in the afternoon, according to a short history behind the holiday. The time and date are now a core part of popular marijuana culture.

Voters approved Proposition 64 in 2016, which allowed retail sales to start in January. It added California to what is currently a list of nine states, plus Washington D.C., where recreational marijuana is legal.

But just how many people in the United States can legally use marijuana, in some form, on “4/20” or any other day?

California Treasurer John Chiang made a recent claim saying:

“A majority of Americans now live in states where they have decided to legalize cannabis.”

Right before that, he noted that more states have approved medical marijuana than recreational pot.

Still, we wondered: Was Chiang right that a majority of Americans live in states that have decided to legalize cannabis? Or was he blowing smoke?

We set out on a fact check.

Our research

Chiang, a Democrat who is running for governor, made his claim in a letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on March 29, 2018. He urged Sessions to establish federal banking rules for the cannabis industry. The letter was signed by state treasures from Oregon, Illinois and Pennsylvania, as well as several cannabis industry representatives.

Marijuana remains illegal, in all forms, under federal law.

In January, Sessions rescinded an Obama administration memo that recommended a hands-off approach to marijuana prosecution in states that have legalized pot. The move was seen as possibly paving the way for a federal crackdown on marijuana users and suppliers, though it’s uncertain whether that will happen.

To support the statement that “a majority” of Americans live in states that have legalized cannabis, a spokesman for Chiang pointed us to a November 2017 report by the treasurer’s office. It includes a map based on information from the National Conference of State Legislatures showing 44 states have some form of legal marijuana, ranging from adult recreational use to medical use to “limited medical” use in several states allowing “cannabis extracts.”

Based on that map, the vast majority of Americans do live in states that have decided to legalize cannabis.

But it’s also the broadest collection of states we found and stretches the case on whether a state has really legalized any form of marijuana.

We decided to limit our count to states where voters or a state legislature has approved a comprehensive law authorizing medical or recreational marijuana.

We found 29 states, plus Washington D.C., that meet that criteria, based on news reports. Nine have legalized recreational marijuana while the rest have legalized medical marijuana.

Even with this smaller group of states, however, Chiang’s statement holds up. There are more than 207 million people in these states, based on our review of census data.

That’s easily a majority of America’s 325 million people.

Our ruling

California Treasurer John Chiang recently claimed: “A majority of Americans now live in states where they have decided to legalize cannabis.”

His office pointed to a report that shows 44 states have some form of legal marijuana, though that list includes some states with only “limited medical marijuana” legalization and no comprehensive law authorizing the use.

In reality, 29 states, plus Washington D.C., have passed laws authorizing recreational marijuana, medical marijuana or both.

But even with this smaller group, Chiang’s statement is correct. That’s because more than 200 million Americans live in these states, representing a clear majority of the country’s 325 million people.

We rate Chiang’s statement True.