On 4/20, a look at America's marijuana landscape

On April 20, a day celebrated by marijuana users around the globe, we look at where legislation stands across the U.S. for legalization.
Posted at 11:58 AM, Apr 20, 2023

Thursday is April 20, otherwise known as "4/20." It's a day celebrated by marijuana users across the globe. Some say the chosen day stems from an old police radio code "420," signaling "marijuana smoking in progress." Others claim the day got its name from a group of high school students in the 1970s who met after school at 4:20 to smoke. Regardless of the origin of the day, marijuana use has exploded in popularity among Americans after nearly a decade of efforts to legalize cannabis in many states — both medicinally and recreationally.

Marijuana legislation from 1996 to 2023

In 1996, California became the first state to legalize marijuana for medicinal use, followed by Alaska, Nevada, Oregon and Washington state in 1998. 

In 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize cannabis for recreational use. 

Today, at least 40 states and Washington, D.C., have legalized marijuana for medicinal and/or recreational use — and you could say demand is high. State officials in Missouri announced that during the month of February, cannabis sales topped $100 million. It was the first month of legal recreational sales in the state. 

What exactly is marijuana?

The National Institutes of Health says the word "marijuana" refers to "parts of or products derived from the plant Cannabis sativa that contain substantial amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC.

That's the substance primarily responsible for that high feeling a person experiences when partaking. 

CBD, short for cannabidiol, on the other hand, is most commonly used to treat chronic pain. It does not contain any THC and it's legal in at least 47 states. 

Customers at a dispensary

The big business of cannabis

If you drive through states where cannabis is legal, you'll see more dispensaries are popping up.  


According to a jobs report from Leafly — a site dedicated to cannabis use and education — the industry is exploding and constantly evolving, with legal cannabis workers projected to grow by 250% between 2018 and 2028. 

As of last month, The Marijuana Policy Project found 31 states and Washington, D.C., have decriminalized low-level marijuana possession offenses. But in Indiana, Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb has so far successfully blocked lawmakers' efforts. 

Indiana is also one of several states where marijuana is fully illegal.

Marijuana buds

Tax revenue from marijuana sales benefits communities across the US

The recreational marijuana industry generated more than $10 billion nationwide in tax revenue in 2021.


According to a 2022 Gallup Poll, more Americans smoke marijuana than use tobacco, leaving many wondering why lawmakers on Capitol Hill are taking so long to agree on groundwork for federal legalization, but continued efforts are underway. 

Earlier this month, Rep. Dave Joyce of Ohio and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York reintroduced the bipartisan Prepare Act. The legislation would pave the way for federal change. 

In a statement, Rep. Joyce, who co-chairs the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, wrote, "With nearly every state adopting its own set of cannabis reforms, an end to federal cannabis prohibition is inevitable. Now is the time for the federal government to respect the will of our constituents and begin the conversation on fair and effective cannabis regulation. ... The Prepare Act will give lawmakers a bipartisan platform to legislate not only a fair and responsible end to prohibition, but also a safer future for our communities." 

In recent years, at least two bills to federally regulate and legalize marijuana have failed to clear both chambers.