Illegal in the United States for nearly 80 years, marijuana accounted for 8.2 million arrests nationwide between 2001 and 2010. Despite the decades old federal ban, the country’s attitude toward marijuana has been changing. While only 12% of Americans supported legalizing pot in 1969, 58% of Americans supported an end to marijuana prohibition in 2013.
Starting with California in 1996, medicinal marijuana use is now legal in 23 states. Of the states with laws protecting medicinal users, four have legalized recreational pot use as well. Despite evolving opinions among voters and legislators, some states still seem unlikely to pass any kind of meaningful reform in the near future. Based on a review of marijuana laws and penalties for possession, 24/7 Wall St. identified the 11 least likely states to legalize marijuana.
In all of the states least likely to legalize pot, possession is a felony under certain circumstances. Perhaps due to strict penalties, estimated usage rates are below average in these states. While an estimated 12.3% of Americans age 12 years and older smoke marijuana, usage rates in all of the states least likely to legalize pot are below the national rate. In Kansas, for example, one of the least pot friendly states in the country, only 8.2% of residents 12 years and older use marijuana, the smallest share of any state in the country.
According to Mason Tvert, director of communications with the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), legal repercussions are not the only factor explaining the relatively low marijuana usage in these states. “There is little doubt marijuana prohibition laws are deterring many adults from choosing to use marijuana,” Tvert said. However, a range of cultural factors, from historical immigration patterns to how religious a population is, also come into play, he noted.
All of the states least likely to legalize pot tend towards the conservative end of the political spectrum. In the 2012 presidential election, all of the states on this list voted for the conservative candidate. Tvert explained that each state’s history feeds into and partially explains its current culture and attitude. For example, though federal alcohol prohibition ended in 1933 with the 21st amendment, Oklahoma did not repeal prohibition laws until 1959, more than a quarter of a century later. Since marijuana has been illegal for the entirety of most people’s lives, “it makes them hesitant to make significant changes to marijuana policies,” Tvert said.
While marijuana policy is largely a social issue, it is also an economic one. Extrapolating from tax dollars already collected from the legally regulated marijuana sales in Colorado, the Anderson Economic Group (AEG) estimates that national excise tax revenue could be as high $3.1 billion with prohibition repeal. While nationwide legalization would certainly provide a lucrative stream of new tax revenue, it could also cannibalize major existing industries. According to the same report by AEG, a nationwide repeal of marijuana prohibition could result in a $221.4 million annual decrease in alcohol sales.
As more states decriminalize and legalize marijuana, federal law is more likely to change. Tvert said, “with social issues like this we tend to see an evolution take place, we tend to see dominoes fall and the pace will continue to pick up.” In other words, national marijuana law reform will become increasingly more likely as more states join legalize recreational pot and join the ranks of Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington.
To identify the last states that will legalize marijuana, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed states with the harshest marijuana laws. We only considered states where medical marijuana, with the exception of cannabis oil to treat epilepsy, is not permitted. Felony charges also needed to be possible for merely possessing the plant under certain circumstances in these states. Since marijuana law reform could be imminent even in the states with the harshest laws, we also excluded states where voter initiatives are scheduled for the near future as well as states where pro-marijuana legislation has gained support in recent months. Marijuana-related arrests per 100,000 residents through 2012 in each state came from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report. In addition, we considered the estimated proportion of residents 12 years and older who reported using marijuana some time in the past year based on annualized data from 2012 and 2013, from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The Marijuana Policy Project provided public opinion polls based on the most recent available survey. All data on current enforcement policies and penalties were provided by NORML.
These are the last states that will legalize marijuana.