United States Moves Closer to Federal Decriminalization of Marijuana

 United States Moves Closer to Federal Decriminalization of Marijuana

Marijuana prohibition

The end to marijuana prohibition is looking more likely as 2020 was a great year for cannabis legalization. Advocates and organizations have been working diligently for decades to push for policies aimed to reform existing drug laws and regulations. Nationwide polls suggest that two-thirds of the United States population is in favor of marijuana legalization. Only 1 in 10 Americans oppose marijuana use for both medicinal and recreational purposes.

In recent years, the most sweeping policy initiative passed by the U.S. House of Representatives (with a vote of 228-164) was the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act—introduced in 2019 by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler and former California Senator (now Vice President-elect) Kamala Harris. The MORE Act will decriminalize cannabis use and remove marijuana as a scheduled substance under the Controlled Substances Act. The bill will also expunge all prior marijuana-related convictions and eliminate criminal penalties for individuals who manufacture, distribute, or possess marijuana.

An overwhelming majority of U.S. adults (91%) say marijuana should be legal either for medical and recreational use (59%) or that it should be legal just for medical use (32%). 

Pew Research Center, 2019

In addition to de-scheduling marijuana, the MORE Act will also establish a federal excise tax to assist individuals and families affected by marijuana prohibition while also creating a healthy atmosphere and establishing regulations for cannabis-related businesses. After the MORE Act is passed by the Senate, states will be free to introduce their own regulations concerning marijuana use and sale.

New York has launched a Start SMART NY campaign to support affected communities and establish an inclusive marijuana industry free from all kinds of discrimination. With the help of the Drug Policy Alliance, New York has also introduced the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) that will allow the responsible use of marijuana along with a licensing system that will empower small businesses and family farmers to enter marijuana-related businesses. 

15 states have legalized marijuana use completely and 36 states have legalized it for medicinal use. 

Addiction Center, 2020

In 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first two states to legalize recreational marijuana. Since then, Colorado has earned $7.79 billion from the marijuana industry in terms of revenue. Some other states that have legalized marijuana for recreational use include Oregon, Alaska, Massachusetts, Washington, California, Maine, Nevada, and the list goes on. In 2020, the states that legalized marijuana for medical use include Vermont, Arizona, New Jersey, Montana, and South Dakota.

Legalizing cannabis at a federal level will help curb several challenges such as the increasing rate of prescription drug addiction among young people while also creating economic opportunities in a stable economy instead of the illicit market. The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) has been advocating for legalization since its founding in 1995—devoting its efforts to decriminalize marijuana at the state and federal level. MPP is one of the largest organizations working in the United States to urge the government to reform its existing drug policies. Since inception, MPP has passed 13 medical cannabis laws as well as winning campaigns in 8 of the 11 legalization states. Additionally, the Drug Policy Alliance also believes that marijuana should be legalized in the country. The organization works to reduce criminalization of drugs, promote health-centered drug policies, and advocate for equitable legal regulation of cannabis.

The ever-emerging popularity of marijuana in the U.S. is helping to eliminate the stigma and shift overall perception against cannabis. It is just a matter of time before marijuana will no longer be seen as a drug, but rather a natural remedy for chronic pain, cancers, anxiety, depression, and other illnesses. Moving forward, legalization efforts will also promote product testing which will help patients and recreational consumers get better information on the products they will be using. 

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María Guillén

María Guillén

María is a writer, serial city dweller, and founder of Policybae. She's passionate about social justice advocacy, organizing action, and mobilizing change around sociopolitical issues. María holds a Master of Policy Management from Georgetown University and a dual degree in Public Relations and Communication Studies from Rowan University. Follow María on Twitter: @_mariaguillen

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