Trail-Blazing: The Current Path to Legalization of Marijuana

Public opinions about the use of marijuana in recreational and medical contexts vary across the nation.  In terms of policy, different states have different rules about marijuana, but this drug has yet to be legalized at the federal level.  So, where does America currently stand with regard to marijuana?

A majority of Americans support full legalization of marijuana.  In fact, 59% support the idea that both recreational and medical uses should be allowed.  There are some folks who hold the opinion that marijuana should only be legalized in the medical context (30% of Americans).  Just 10% of Americans believe that marijuana should not be legalized at all.

In the US, 21 states legally allow the use of marijuana in recreational contexts.  Furthermore, 37 states have legalized medical marijuana, with varying restrictions on how much THC can be present.  Some states have not legalized marijuana, but they do allow CBD.  Just 2 states have policies that do not allow the use of cannabis (in any form) whatsoever.

Idaho and Nebraska are the two states with no forms of legalized cannabis.  Of the states that have not yet legalized marijuana, but allow CBD, most are in the Southeast and Midwest.  The states that allow medical marijuana only are mostly concentrated in the Midwest, with a few in the Southeast and Northeast.  All of the states on the West Coast, and many in the Northeast, have fully legalized marijuana (even recreationally).  Some examples of states with fully legalized marijuana are California, Colorado, and Massachusetts.

CBD restrictions are different across the country.  In 10 states, CBD is only restricted by the percentage of THC it contains; the existing limits are 0.3%, 0.5%, 0.9%, 1%, and 5% THC (depending on the state).  Many states restrict CBD depending on its origin; some states allow hemp-derived CBD only (for example, Hawaii and Florida).  Others, such as North Carolina and Minnesota, allow cannabis-derived CBD oil when it is distributed by someone with a medical license.

What are the experts saying about the legalization of marijuana?  One of the board members of BOWL PAC, Tyler McFadden, believes that continued efforts in support of legalization should be made.  McFadden expressed the idea that “[Legalization] might not be tomorrow, it might not even be next year, but as long as we’re doing something about it now, we’ll reach it faster than we would if we stand here twiddling our thumbs, waiting for something to happen without doing anything about it.”

As previously mentioned, legislation about marijuana use is inconsistent across the country, but more states have recently begun the legalization process.  Deputy Director of NORML, Paul Armentano, was quoted as saying “[Legalization] victories have almost exclusively all been at the state and local level, and I expect that trend to continue in 2023.”

Which states are most likely to fully legalize marijuana next?  According to research done on the subject, there are seven states in which the recreational use of marijuana is likely to become legal by the year 2030.  These seven states are Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Oklahoma, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and South Dakota.

States tend to legalize medical marijuana before approving recreational use, but the amount of time that passes between those two decisions is shortening.  When California legalized recreational marijuana in 1998, this decision came 7,308 days after their approval of medical marijuana.  Two years later, in 2000, Colorado approved recreational usage.  This was just 4,380 days after medical marijuana became legal in their state.  More recently, in 2012, Massachusetts legalized recreational marijuana only 1,463 days after they decided to allow medical use.

Finally, what are the next steps to federal legalization?  Currently, the only decision made at the federal level has been the pardoning of non-violent offenders who were charged with simple possession of marijuana.  President Joe Biden signed the executive order allowing this last year, in 2022.  There has also been an increase in legislative activity related to the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), the Cannabis Opportunity Act (CAOA), and the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act (MORE).

The latest actions of the government, at the state and federal level, may be smoke signals indicating the upcoming legalization of marijuana across the country.