It has now been a decade since Colorado and Washington legalized recreational marijuana. While the plant hasn’t enjoyed the cleanest transition into legalization, by most accounts, most of the warnings from those that opposed cannabis legalization haven’t come to bear fruit. Yet lawmakers are still wary and often at odds with legal weed.
This has created an interesting cultural divide in the United States, where in one state you can freely toke up as much as you want, while another will put you in jail for as little as a dime of medical marijuana. So who is right?
With 38 states having some sort of legalized marijuana use — with half of them having full-blown legalization — we can finally see the real impact legalization has had. And this is important to see, because not only may it be the key to bringing legalization to the United States as a whole, it can help us correct some big issues in racial disparity and health that it can bring along.
How A Decade Of Legalization Has Shaped People’s Opinion
With Colorado and Washington entering ten years of legal recreational use with many states following behind, the American people have a lot of time and examples of legal recreational use and its effects.
When 1,100 Americans aged 21 and older were recently surveyed by Pollfish, nearly two-thirds of respondents stated that they believe cannabis has an overall positive impact on society.
61.5% felt cannabis plays an important role in supporting U.S. economic growth, while 62.5% believe the industry is vital to their local economy. Similarly, 61% said they were more likely to support pro-legalization political candidates. 67.6% thought federal banking restrictions should be lifted on cannabis companies, allowing them equal access to banking services. Last, 3 out of 4 said the Department of Veterans Affairs should allow veterans access to medical cannabis with a doctor’s prescription.
With drug-crime rates massively falling in legal states while enjoying a new cash cow in tax revenue, it’s not too surprising to see why people love legal cannabis.
While Mostly Positive, The Effects Of Cannabis Legalization Haven’t All Been Rosy
Before states began legalizing cannabis use a decade ago, half of all drug-crime arrests in the US were related to cannabis. Thankfully, not so much anymore, but with the good comes the bad.
In a decade, African American adults went from being 2.5 times to 5 times as likely as Caucasian adults to be arrested for unlawful cannabis possession. To add insult to injury, while making up 13% of the population, fewer than 2% of Black Americans make up the ownership of cannabis companies. Failure to expunge past marijuana crimes and restrictions on bank loans are two big culprits for this disparity.
Then while a decade of legalization hasn’t caused a medical epidemic, nor has it revealed a troubling truth about marijuana consumption, it has increased use, and as a result, an increasing number of health issues are following.
Women have doubled their use from 2002 to 2017, leading to lower birth weights in babies exposed to marijuana in the womb.
Another big concern is the 25% increase in use amongst those between the ages of 12 to 17 in states that legalized recreational cannabis use. While it appears that even chronic cannabis consumption can be quite safe when done right for adults whose brains have stopped developing, chronic marijuana use in teens is linked to impaired learning, declines in IQ and school performance, and suicide attempts.
The Next States That Might Legalize Marijuana Use
Currently, 19 states have fully embraced legalization, while another 19 have medical programs that allow restricted use. For many, legalization across the country hasn’t happened as fast as they were hopeful for. In fact, in recent years, the road to legalizing cannabis has seen many roadblocks. This isn’t entirely unexpected as most of the holdouts are notoriously conservative states. This is why Delaware’s failure to pass recreational use this year was a bitter pill to swallow after the Democratic governor, John Carney, vetoed a bill passed by both chambers to remove penalties for possession.
But in less than a few months, things may turn around for legalization efforts with the possibility that cannabis could be legal in half the country.
After collecting more than twice as many signatures required to qualify, proponents are hopeful Arkansas voters will get a real chance to decide if they want reactional marijuana in their state.
While the initiative to legalize cannabis will be on the ballot, it’s up to the Arkansas Supreme Court to decide whether the votes will count after the Arkansas Board of Election Commissioners rejected the ballot title.
After failing to pass legalization themselves, Maryland lawmakers are hoping the voters will decide in November to do what they couldn’t. Where it’s more likely than not we will see some states fail to pass recreational marijuana, Maryland is seen as a lock with its strong public support.
After nearly falling short of getting the required signatures, Missouri voters will have the chance to decide if they want recreational marijuana in their state. If passed, the incentive won’t just legalize recreational use, it will also automatically expunge all nonviolent weed-related crimes while adding additional protections for medical marijuana users.
While some states have been enjoying recreational marijuana for a decade, a few don’t even allow medical use.
There are just three states that do not have any form of medical cannabis access on the books, and in November, many Nebraska residents hope their state can’t be included on that list anymore.
Legalized marijuana has seen a rocky road to legalization in North Dakota. In 2016, voters approved a medical marijuana referendum but shot down recreational use in 2018. Then after the state made history when its House of Representatives was the first Republican-dominated legislative chamber to pass a recreational legalization bill, it failed on the Senate floor.
Now it’s once again time for the voters to decide, and while it will surely fair better than in 2018, can it overcome the 18-point margin it failed by last time?
In 2018, Oklahoma voters legalized one of the most friendly medical marijuana programs in the United States. However, the program became a little less friendly when the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority (OMMA) announced a two-year medical marijuana license moratorium after struggles with illicit marijuana activity and businesses’ reluctance to comply with industry regulations in August.
But with voters potentially having the option to vote on one of three ballot measures to choose from, the outlook is optimistic.
After the South Dakota Supreme court denied its residents the right to recreational use after voters passed it in 2020, they will get the chance to make once again their voices heard this November. This time they will be voting on a statutory amendment that allows lawmakers to change or repeal its provisions. Proponents hope that going this route vs. the 2020 initiative, which was a constitutional amendment, will result in the state joining the list of states where its residents can enjoy recreational marijuana.
When Will Federal Legalization Happen?
Quiet, slow, but steady is the best way to summarize the push for legal cannabis use on a federal level. While most states have some form of marijuana legalization, the federal government could technically come and shut them down at any moment. And while chances are very slim — with opposition from both sides — that fear could soon come to an end.
Long-talked about, Senate Leader Chuck Schumer’s Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act is finally here. With the goal of decimalizing marijuana on a federal level along with expunging federal cannabis-related records, at the very least, this legislation will define the conversation around cannabis legalization going forward. Perhaps even more important, portions of this unlikely-to-pass bill may find their way into other bills much more likely to pass this year.
With the majority of people in legal states finding cannabis has become an intricate part of their economy and a net positive on society as a whole, full cannabis legalization in the United States seems inevitable. But unlike what many of us had predicted and hoped for after states started legalizing it a decade ago, legally toking up in all 50 states is still a ways away.