The United States is taking on a new form of going green. Just twenty years ago, cannabis was illegal throughout the country, in all 50 states. Now, states have and are writing broad legislation to permit its use in some form or another. Like dominoes, states are toppling one by one, succumbing to demand for weed, already even marijuana delivery service. These dominoes continue falling, with no sign of slowing.
Legalization vs. Decriminalization
Legalizing marijuana is not the same is decriminalizing it. However, states are doing either-or. What does this mean? States that decriminalize pot are relaxing criminal laws related to personal use. Oregon was the first to do this back in 1973, opting to fine folks $100 for carrying less than an ounce, as opposed to charging them criminally and putting them in jail.
Over the next two decades, after Oregon decriminalized, at least several other states followed suit. However, decriminalizing only removes criminal charges for personal possession of a small quantity. It soothes the sting somewhat from anti-weed policies, but selling and manufacturing marijuana remains illegal. This is only half a solution.
In contrast, legalization not only allows folks to possess marijuana for personal reasons, but it also allows legal sale and production of it, in effect commercializing it. This is true of both medical and recreational cannabis, with nearly all states now with some type of flexible law for medical use. Some allow only cannabidiol, or CBD, products, or those low in psychoactive tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC.
These states have yet to legalize medical weed broadly. They still limit the manner and form of its use. However, the majority of states now permit patients broad access to cannabis for therapeutic use. More than half are flexible toward both medical and recreational use, with folks in these areas able to access it freely without any illness, prescription, or doctor’s letter of recommendation.
Historic Laws Passed
The last two decades have been busy. States have been proposing laws, passing new ones, changing old ones. It is impossible to discuss all of this activity, but there have been some laws that have been particularly historic, making a sizeable impact on marijuana reform over the years. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, the most important of these include the following:
Proposition 215, California, 1996
In November 1996, voters approved Proposition 215, a ballot initiative that legalized cannabis for medical use in California. This bold move encouraged organizers in other states to petition for the same. Many joined the fray soon afterward.
Amendment 64, Colorado, 2012
Through a 2012 ballot vote, Amendment 64, Colorado and another state legalized pot for recreational use. More importantly, it set the standard for other states to follow, particularly in regulating an adult-use industry. In 2017, Colorado sold $1.5 billion worth of weed, both medical and recreational.
Initiative 502, Washington, 2012
Residents in Washington State approved their own ballot initiative in 2012, called Initiative 502, at the same time that Colorado legalized recreational use through Amendment 64. Although its market has not been as successful as Colorado’s, the state still generated $1.3 billion from its sales in 2017.
Proposition 64, California, 2016
Because of the sheer size of California, its decision to pass Proposition 64, a 2016 ballot initiative to legalize recreational use, is very important. Its medical cannabis market generated almost $3 billion in 2017, almost double Colorado’s entire industry. This could reach $7.7 billion by 2022 for both markets.
H. 511, Vermont, 2018
Surprisingly, Vermont became the very first state to use state legislature to legalize recreational weed, as opposed to putting the question on its ballot. However, its law is unusual. Vermont allows folks to have up to an ounce of pot for recreational use, but, for now, its sale remains strictly illegal.
Most Influential Role Players
As with all contentious issues, there are vocal opponents and proponents of legalization, each brandishing their views and clamoring for public favor. On both sides of the legalization question sits several groups that have had a remarkable influence on cannabis politics, the most significant of which include the following, but fail to mention them all:
National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML
Founded nearly half a century ago, in 1970, NORML is likely the most famous marijuana advocacy group in the world. It championed early efforts to decriminalize and is still actively working on legalizing cannabis nationally, at the federal level, and both medically and recreationally.
Marijuana Policy Project, or MPP
MPP, with its founding in 1995, lobbies state legislatures and the U.S. Congress to decriminalize cannabis and make it more readily available to medical patients. It was an active participant in almost all of the abovementioned passed laws, and it is still busy lobbying lawmakers today.
Drug Policy Alliance, or DPA
Back in 1987, attorney Kevin Zeese and American University professor Arnold Trebach founded DPA. They migrated from NORML and in 2000, the DPA merged with The Lindesmith Center to reform national drug policies. It has been a leader in several victories, most notably in Colorado and California.
Smart Approaches to Marijuana, or SAM
SAM is a fierce opponent of legalization. Founded by former Representative Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., and Kevin Sabet, former drug policy advisor to Barack Obama, in 2013, SAM is very anti-weed, exerting national influence on corporate policies concerning marijuana.
Drug-Free America Foundation, or DFAF
DFAF began in 1976. Started by former U.S. Ambassador to Italy and his wife, Mel and Betty Sembler respectively, the organization promotes policies to reduce addiction and all drug use at both state and national level. Its anti-marijuana stance leaves no doubt.
Future Cannabis Laws
Much changed since the 1960s. You can walk into a dispensary in Santa Monica and buy weed today. You can even order a marijuana delivery service. However, this is not true everywhere. You struggle to find any in, say, Texas. However, the dominos are falling. More than half of the United States already lives under liberal cannabis laws; the federal government has no option but to cave in the near future.