Think Cannabis Will Be Legal in Your State? Think Again

Three states are legalizing recreational marijuana. However, some cities have pushed back.

September 22, 2019
8 mins read

Eight U.S. states (plus Washington D.C.) have legalized the sale and consumption of recreational marijuana, with another three on the way. These states have contributed to the $8 billion in yearly cannabis sales (a number expected to reach $23 billion by 2022), increasing statewide revenue on top of remedying the damage criminalization had done.

The three newest states to the party include Illinois, Michigan and Vermont.

Cannabis legalization has had an interesting journey since its beginning in 1996. Then, California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana. Twenty-eight states since have legalized the substance for medicinal purposes.

One of the reasons it has taken until the cusp of the 21st century to legalize weed is, obviously, political. The U.S. government has been dealing with marijuana since the federal passage of the Marijuana Tax Act in 1937 — a method of banning the substance by taxing it at a high rate.

However, it was the war on drugs in the 1970s that drastically changed the course of cannabis. The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 placed substances into categories of medical usefulness, and marijuana was categorized as Schedule 1 — right alongside heroin and LSD. Since then, each state has navigated the respective decriminalizing and legalization of the drug on their own, even though weed is still not legal under federal law.

Beginning in 2012, states began considering cannabis for recreational use in addition to medical. Colorado and Washington became the first two states to approve of recreational weed usage, followed by Alaska, Oregon, D.C., California, Nevada, Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont, Michigan and finally, Illinois. (Though this may seem like a lot in less than a decade, it is equal to the number of states in which marijuana is still completely illegal.)

Despite how hard this movement has hit the ground running, not every resident will get to easily reap the benefits. Despite 65% of Americans supporting legalization, some towns have pushed back. Worried about having dispensaries, maintaining a reputation or simply not wanting to deal with the negative side effects of the drug, many suburban areas within Illinois, Michigan and Vermont have moved to ban commercial sales within their respective city limits.

So, what’s the situation looking like in your town?


New Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker passed a bill this year, officially legalizing recreational marijuana. The law will go into effect in 2020, and will also benefit the 800,000 residents who previously carried a criminal record due to possession/purchasing of weed.

However, municipalities around Chicago (namely suburban ones) are hesitant about extending this law into their areas. While local governments will not have the right to outright ban cannabis, they do have control over whether or not commercial businesses will be allowed to operate there. Batavia, Bloomingdale, Libertyville, Morton and Naperville are the five major cities who have or are in the process of voting to ban sales.

For most, it’s an issue of image. “There is nothing friendly about recreational marijuana,” one resident told the Chicago Tribune. This is a good point. Suburban towns are built with the family in mind, so it’s a dilemma all of these cities have to face.

However, opponents of the ban call it hypocritical, since these same towns have no bans on other “non-family friendly” substances like alcohol or cigarettes.


The Great Lakes state was actually the first one in the Midwest to legalize marijuana (which it did in 2018). However, they’ve taken their time issuing regulations and licenses that would make it possible for businesses to open up, so in the commercial sense, they are about on-par with Illinois. Commercial sales are set to begin in late December of 2019.

Despite Michigan’s trailblazing attitude, many communities are putting their foot down. Since the proposal’s passing, over 250 communities have opted to ban cannabis. Major towns include Ironwood, Midland, Monroe, South Haven and Traverse City. This number could shrink if Michigan legislators enact laws to regulate the industry, but until then, many parts of Michigan will remain weed-free.


January of 2018 marked a groundbreaking event in the process of weed legalization. Vermont became the first state to allow the substance via passage of a bill. The previous states that had legalized marijuana had done so by putting it on the ballot, leaving it to voters to decide.

The problem with that strategy is that it is not a possibility in all 50 states. Named initiative and referendum (I&R), this process allows residents to place issues on the ballot, granted they gain enough signatures supporting the cause. Only 26 states allow for this to happen. In the remaining 24, laws must be passed solely at the legislative level. Even with this hindrance, Vermont was still able to legalize recreational weed.

Though possession has been legal for the past two years, commercial sales won’t begin likely until mid-2021, as legislators debate on how they want to tax cannabis sales. In the meantime, cities like Clarendon, Killington and Newport are already moving to ban sales in preparation of the law going into effect.

When the Smoke Clears

Both the passing and banning of weed laws can be a good thing so long as the laws are passed in accordance with the voters’ wishes. Unfortunately, there are many cases where the voice of one overpowers the voices of many, leading to the banning of marijuana in places people are unhappy about.

Despite this truth, the past 23 years have shown that nothing is set in stone about our world — or laws, for that matter. As marijuana becomes more normalized in American society — seen more as a substance on par with (and in some ways less harmful than) alcohol — perhaps all 50 states will jump on the legalization bandwagon. Moreover, the cities and townships vying against the states in which they reside might feel compelled to one day reconsider their positions.

But until then, if you live in those places, you’ll have to do a bit of traveling for a while in order to get your fix.

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