Seems to me each round of US elections lately has a batch of cannabis referendums riding in it.

Recreational marijuana legalized in 2 states, rejected in 3 in 2022 election referendums Currently, 21 states and the District of Columbia permit recreational marijuana.

So my question is: have many states passed marijuana legalization laws without going through a referendum first? The subject may seem like a natural fit for referendums, but my general understanding is that most US states have ample ways to enact laws without calling referendums. Is the prevalence of referendums unusual here?

1 Answer 1


Yes, most states have legalised the use of cannabis by way of a popular vote on the issue - either via a ballot initiative, or by the legislature referring the issue to the voting public.

Restricting ourselves to recreational rather than medical use, of the 21 states (plus DC) in which this is legal, just seven achieved this solely through the passage of a bill through the state legislature; Vermont, Illinois, New York, Virginia, New Mexico, Connecticut, and most recently Rhode Island. In twelve states (and DC) a ballot initiative process was used, and in New Jersey and Maryland, the legislature referred the question to the public by enacting an amendment to the constitution of their respective states.

This is not necessarily unusual for morally sensitive issues - another example that springs to mind is the prevalence of ballot measures and referendums which sought to prevent same-sex marriage, before Obergefell v. Hodges was decided by the Supreme Court in June 2015.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .