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From Medical to Recreational Marijuana: Lessons for States in Transition

As of October 2020, eleven states and the District of Columbia have undergone a transition from medical to adult-use marijuana regimes navigating the creation of a new industry within a complex and incongruous legal framework. The experience of these states has created a wealth of lessons for other states that might legalize adult-use marijuana in the future. This report documents lessons learned and decision-making behind the transition in four states: Colorado, Michigan, Nevada, and Oregon. The purpose of this research is to provide actionable and concrete advice to states that are transitioning, or are planning for a transition, from a medical marijuana regime to an adult-use or recreational framework.

Marijuana legalization and expungement in early 2021

Early 2021 was an unprecedented period for policymaking at the intersection of marijuana legalization and criminal record reform. Between February and April, four states enacted legislation legalizing recreational marijuana. In conjunction with legalization, these states (New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, and Virginia) also enacted innovative criminal policy reforms—including the automatic expungement of an exceptionally broad array of past marijuana convictions—along with a variety of social equity provisions.

Five Decades of Marijuana Decriminalization

The topic of drug decriminalization has gained considerable attention in the United States after Oregon voted in November 2020 to decriminalize all drugs in that state. While we consider the possible impacts of broader drug decriminalization efforts, it is useful to look back at the five decades of marijuana decriminalization for lessons on effects and implementation.