Marijuana Legalization: Should Cannabis Be Legalized?
The fight for marijuana legalization has been a long process with many challenges. Even though legalization advocates have made a lot of progress, there is still a lot to be done before the U.S. federal government legalizes the drug.
The legalization of marijuana is a progressive cause that can benefit society. Supporters argue the benefits can range from the release of non-violent offenders from jail to increases in tax revenue.
Where in the U.S. is Marijuana Legalized?
When it comes to marijuana’s legal status, every state has its own rules. In some states marijuana remains fully illegal. Some states have decriminalized and others have legalized for medical or recreational use.
Only three U.S. states prohibit any kind of marijuana use, including CBD oil: Idaho, South Dakota, and Nebraska.
There are 36 states that have legalized the medicinal use of marijuana but the exact regulations vary from state to state. For example, some states will limit the use of medicinal marijuana to cannabis with a THC level of zero while other states allow small percentages of THC. Additionally, some states that have legalized medicinal marijuana, like Connecticut, make the private cultivation of cannabis a felony, even if for medicinal purposes. In New York, cultivating marijuana for medicinal reasons is a misdemeanor while in Florida and Ohio, cultivating cannabis for medicinal reasons is legal. Each state law has its own nuances.
The following 11 states have legalized marijuana for recreational purposes: Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, Michigan, Illinois, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, California, and Alaska. In all of these states, except Vermont, people over the age of 21 are able to buy cannabis legally from dispensaries. And those products are regulated and taxed. Vermont has legalized marijuana but not a regulated marijuana industry..
What does the MORE Act of 2019 mean for marijuana legalization?
The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, also known as the MORE Act, was introduced on July 23, 2019 and sponsored by U.S. Senator Kamala Harris from California. It was co-sponsored by Senator Cory Booker, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Senator Jeff Merkley, Senator Ron Wyden, and Senator Edward Markey, all Democrats.
On November 20, 2019, the MORE Act passed through the House Judiciary Committee by a vote of 24-10 and was sent along to the full House where it is still under review. If it passes there it could be considered by the Senate.
While the chances of the MORE Act passing and legalizing marijuana on a federal level are low, it is a major first step on the road to ending prohibition.
The MORE Act and Marijuana Legalization?
If passed into law, the MORE Act would effectively end the prohibition of cannabis in the United States, and expunge the records of people who were arrested and jailed for the possession and sale of cannabis. The decriminalization of cannabis on a federal level would establish a 5% tax on cannabis sales that would go into a trust fund to support past offenders and others negatively impacted by the federalWar on Drugs.
2020 State Initiatives for Marijuana Legalization
2020 was expected to be a big year for marijuana reform in the U.S., both for medicinal and recreational purposes. The year started out with more than a dozen states looking to legalize marijuana. However, the global pandemic brought about by COVID-19 has at least delayed much of that activity.
Many states have legalized marijuana for medicinal and recreational purposes through ballot initiatives. In 2020, Arkansas, Montana, Missouri, North Dakota, and Oklahoma all had proposed initiatives to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes. Even Idaho, one of only three states where cannabis is fully prohibited, saw a push for medicinal marijuana. Now most of them face longer odds if they haven’t been officially cancelled.
When asked about legalizing marijuana during the pandemic, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, said it would have to wait. With the pandemic, there is “too much [to deal with], too little time.”
It isn’t surprising that states have bigger concerns nowadays than the legalization of cannabis, whether for medicinal or recreational purposes. A lot of progress has been made since California became the first state to legalize medicinal marijuana in 1996, and Washington and Colorado legalized recreational marijuana in 2012.
The Case for Marijuana Legalization
There are many arguments for why marijuana should be legalized at the federal level in the U.S. From economic benefits to human rights issues, ending the prohibition of cannabis has the potential to change the lives of millions of Americans, including those who suffered most during the on-going War on Drugs.
Reduce Crime and Harm: Marijuana Legalization and Human Rights Issues
In 2018, approximately 663,000 people were arrested in the United States for possession of marijuana. Not all of the people who were arrested ended up going to jail, but they typically receive arrest records that can hurt their chances of future employment or their ability to find a place to live or obtain loans.
However, there are non-violent cannabis offenders who have been separated from their families and are now locked up with rapists and murderers. There are even extreme cases like Lee Carroll Brooker. Brooker, an elderly man in Alabama, is serving a life sentence for growing marijuana plants. He had previous felony convictions from 20 years earlier of which he already served 10 years and was released. But because of Alabama’s mandatory-minimum law, Brooker is likely to spend the rest of his life in prison for a non-violent crime of possessing plants at his residence. If marijuana was legal at the federal level, Brooker would be spending his golden years at home with his family and not behind bars.
Marijuana Legalization Creates Jobs
Legalizing marijuana, advocates argue, creates jobs across numerous sectors.
The cultivation of marijuana provides farming and plantation jobs. Beyond growing, in legal states, companies have sprouted up that produce myriad cannabis products like oils, creams, edibles, tinctures and drinks. The legalization of marijuana is also likely to help drive the use of hemp as an alternative to less sustainable textiles, biofuels, and construction materials.
Marijuana legalization can also provide many jobs related to the distribution and retailing of cannabis products.
It’s estimated that the legalization of marijuana at a federal level could create 1.1 million jobs by 2025.
Legalizing Marijuana Saves Money
It is believed that legalizing marijuana could save upwards of $7.7 billion per year in government funds, used to enforce the current prohibition of the plant. This breaks down to $5.3 billion saved at the state level and $2.4 billion saved at the federal level.
Combine that saved money with the tax revenue that would come in from legal weed and you’re talking about a huge amount of money.
Just Colorado alone brought in $1 billion in state tax revenue in the first five years of having legalized marijuana. Colorado is only the 21st most populous state in the country at 5.75 million residents or 1.74% of the U.S. population. It’s safe to say that the tax revenue from legal weed would be significant.
Does Marijuana Legalization Promote Consumer Safety?
By regulating the cultivation and distribution of cannabis, consumers are able to receive products of a higher quality.
In states where cannabis is illegal, people still seek out cannabis to get high and use CBD to treat wellness issues. Because the market for these products is completely uncontrolled, it’s nearly impossible for consumers to know where the cannabis was grown, who had touched it along the supply chain, and if it had been contaminated with any chemicals or foreign substances along the way. This makes the illegal market for cannabis more dangerous for consumers since they have no way of knowing what they are buying.
By regulating the supply chain, from cultivation all the way to purchase, legalizing marijuana can create a system of quality control to ensure people are buying safe products.
Legality of Cannabis by Country for Medical and Recreational Use
Laws vary dramatically from country to country when it comes to marijuana legalization. Even in countries where cannabis is legal for recreational purposes, there are typically nuances.
For example, marijuana is legal for recreational use in South Africa but not like it is in Canada. In Canada, marijuana can be consumed, possessed, and sold in specific locations. In South Africa, marijuana can be possessed and grown but not sold. In Uruguay, the first country to fully legalize the recreational use of marijuana, foreign visitors are unable to buy weed when they visit and citizens are limited to growing six plants per person.
Then there are countries like Mexico and Portugal (among others) which have decriminalized the drug for personal use and allow people to possess certain quantities before getting in trouble for intent to sell. Other countries that have decriminalized cannabis and allow possession of small quantities include Paraguay, the Netherlands, Malta, Jamaica, and Ecuador.
When it comes to the medicinal use of marijuana, the rules and regulations also differ significantly from place to place. Some countries have rules regarding the levels of THC while others require permits or prescriptions from doctors. Each country that has legalized cannabis for medicinal use has its own rules.
The public perception of marijuana is changing and it’s happening quickly. In fact, two-thirds of Americans support the legalization of marijuana at a federal level, a percentage that would have seemed impossible just a generation ago.
And this isn’t just a trend in the United States. The use of cannabis on a global level has grown a whopping 60% over the past decade and isn’t slowing down. As more and more countries ease existing laws, legalize marijuana for medicinal reasons, and even legalize weed for recreational use, more will follow. This is especially true as countries like the United States and Canada loosen their rules.
Beyond the recreational use of cannabis, medicinal use is influencing people who before had negative views of the plant. Some people who once considered marijuana to be a gateway drug are changing their minds as studies show that cannabis may help with a wide variety of ailments like depression, anxiety, insomnia and pain relief.
Only time will tell if and when marijuana will one day be legal and regulated on a global scale. If that happens, it may well be a boon in tax dollars and money saved enforcing archaic laws. It will also help people who have long suffered because of criminal records for simply possessing small quantities of a plant.