02 May The State of Cannabis in the US
As of this article’s posting date, medical marijuana is legal in 33 states and recreational pot is legal in 10 states plus Washington, D.C. New Jersey is still waffling on its marijuana legalization laws, even though the State’s governor, its legislative leaders, and over half of the population support it. They’ll get there eventually, like many of the states before them. Said New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney, “Certainly I’m disappointed, but we are not defeated.”
New York, another state working to legalize marijuana, is struggling with lawmakers who claim they will block any legalization legislation. What they are blocking, in effect, is cannabis industry entrepreneurs from sharing this booming industry’s profits.
Regardless of the state of cannabis in both New York and New Jersey, other states are proceeding according to public opinion. In 2018, California opened its recreational pot sales, creating the world’s biggest legal pot market. Michigan was the first Midwest state to legalize weed. And Vermont was the first state in the US to legalize marijuana legislatively instead of through a ballot initiative.
Everyone understands the federal marijuana legalization snowball effect: as a mere snowball starts its journey, it picks up more snow along the way, and the eventual momentum creates a landslide of snow that overtakes everything in its path. Expect cannabis legalization to follow, much like alcohol proponents did in the face of prohibition.
History of Prohibition
The Anti-Saloon League was established in 1893 and spread out through urban growth to encapsulate evangelical Protestantism. The leading view of the day was that the saloon culture was un-Godly and horribly corrupt. Advocates for prohibition were able to get manufacturers and factory owners on board who desperately wanted to increase production in their facilities and decrease costly accidents. They focused on alcohol as the problem instead of highly increased production and extended working hours.
It wasn’t until 1917 that President Woodrow Wilson initiated prohibition of grain used in alcohol so they could use it for producing food during WWI. It wasn’t much long afterwards that the 18th Amendment was ratified, the prohibition of manufacturing, transporting, or selling liquor.
In an interesting correlation, 33 states initiated their own form of prohibition. Less than three-quarters of a year later, the federal government passed the National Prohibition Act that made alcohol illegal nationally.
Stills, bootleggers, and rum runners proliferated, much like the pot dealers of today. Another common theme was how law enforcement enforced it more strictly in areas where public opinion supported Prohibition and less so in more tolerant urban areas. And much like today, those who wanted to imbibe found a way to do it.
You only need study the arc of Prohibition to understand where the cannabis industry is headed. Private homes, smugglers, and others informally produced alcohol they passed across state lines, feeding an underground that craved their product.
Another correlation is Prohibition sparked criminal activity. Consider gang leaders like Al Capone who understood how to make money on illegal alcohol sales. He reportedly generated more than $60 million a year from his speakeasies and bootlegging operations. Compare that to what a current-day marijuana dealer may generate from pot sales.
Gang violence spiked during Prohibition. Much like today.
But that was only one reason Prohibition foundered. The country’s working class and the poor bore the brunt of Prohibition more profoundly than did the middle- and upper-class. Similar to today’s convicted marijuana dealer who is most likely poor, a minority, and male, jails and prisons were overcrowded with alcohol bootleggers by the end of the 1920s. Fundamentalist prohibitionists alienated the movement’s more moderate members.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, facing the Great Depression, ran for president in 1932 on Prohibition’s appeal. He easily won the presidency away from Herbert Hoover, dealing the death blow to Prohibition. By 1933, Congress repealed the 18th amendment and submitted the 21st amendment to the states. A few states held out for Prohibition, but all succumbed by 1966.
Today’s marijuana trajectory
The United States has a full 33 states that passed medical marijuana legislation to date. And 10 states plus the District of Columbia have ratified recreational use of weed. This grass roots effort is poised to sweep the nation much like the abolishment of Prohibition did for the US citizens. We just need the right presidential candidate, our era’s FDR, to win the country’s nomination and make cannabis legal in all 50 states.
Much like Prohibition, marijuana legalization could still be left up to each state. But the federal government needs to get on board with the times and declassify cannabis as a Schedule I drug and let the states decide. Almost 70% of the states in the US have legalized marijuana in some form. It’s time for the federal government to step aside and let the states rule on this issue.
In fact, a recent Pew Research Center poll found that 74% of millennials support pot legalization, while over 60% of all Americans support it. The public will couldn’t be more apparent.
Around the world, legalization of weed is becoming more prominent. In 2018, Canada became the largest country in the world to legalization both medicinal and recreational use of pot. Many European countries as also more lenient by allowing a small amount of weed for personal use. Pot use is still technically legal across most of Europe, however. If you’re considering a European vacation this year, check out which countries allow legal marijuana, such as the Netherlands. For example, only Dutch nationals are legally allowed to purchase marijuana in coffee shops in an attempt to reduce marijuana tourism. Make sure you check with your destination country to understand the governing rules.
For a breakdown, country by country, of cannabis laws to check before you book your flights, check out Marijuana Break’s article, “Is Marijuana Legal in Europe?”
What you can expect for the future of cannabis in the US
As the presidential elections of 2020 loom on the horizon, expect pot policy to be a hot topic. Even before we hit the election in November 2020, we currently have a Democratic House of Representatives sympathetic to marijuana reform. You might not be able to anticipate the House doing something before the presidential elections. However, expect marijuana to be a hot topic, both on the Hill and in the upcoming elections.
Many in the government realize that now is the time to create measures to tax and regulate cannabis. For example, banking systems need regulations to govern how they work with marijuana companies and the IRS needs definitive guidelines on how to tax the cannabis industry.
In fact, across all years in the past, we’ve not seen this level of momentum around marijuana reform across the US. Trusted news sources like Forbes Magazine report that Election Day will help to champion cannabis reform measures. They report the following states are likely to legalize marijuana in the next election period:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- Rhode Island
Other states will probably move to decriminalize marijuana, so expect a referendum to fully legalize marijuana around the US. Consider the following states that might consider ballot initiatives to legalize marijuana:
- North Dakota
Other states that might make the move to legalize medical marijuana include:
- South Dakota
It’s interesting how legislators and candidates are coming out of the woodwork this election season to support marijuana legislation and reform. It bears paying attention to the election process to see where your state falls in the pot legislation dilemma.
Important considerations when voting
It’s not enough to legalize medicinal use of marijuana to help individuals combat their pain, ailments, conditions, diseases, and more. Let’s look at how one step further, the ultimate legalization of marijuana in all its form (both medical and recreational), will decriminalize something most of US citizens support. Most importantly, legislation needs to include criminal record reform.
For example, those previously convicted of possession, selling, dealing, and other marijuana violations need their record expunged. If as a country we legalize marijuana in any form (medical or recreational), we need to make it right with all those individuals incarcerated on drug charges stemming from marijuana and its use, sale, etc.
To pass legislation that makes cannabis in all its forms legal across the country is to ignore those incarcerated for years, decades, and longer on laws being redacted by current legislation. It’s one thing to make marijuana legal for users and medical patients. It’s another to release those in jail or prison on pot charges that no longer hold weight.
Exercise your right to vote. Wherever you fall on the topic of marijuana use, make your voice heard. And if you’re in favor of legalizing cannabis use in all forms, make sure your state/country releases those currently under incarceration and expunges their records.
Marijuana legalization is the wave of the future. It’s a grass roots effort that has swept the United States and shows no slowing. In fact, President Donald Trump recently signed the Farm Bill into law late in 2018. This bill legalizes hemp, which is similar to the marijuana plant except without the THC, the psychoactive element.
You’ve no doubt heard of the medicinal properties of CBD, which is one of hundreds of cannabinoids found in marijuana. CBD helps patients struggling with debilitating conditions and diseases like epileptic seizures by relieving many of their symptoms. If President Trump realizes the health and other benefits of hemp, the rest of the nation is not far behind.
But it’s up to you at the polls this year to help the nation determine the state of cannabis in the United States. Much like Prohibition, you can determine that marijuana is the least of our worries for a moral society. Maybe we would be better served by targeting our efforts on opioids, the real basis for our debilitating epidemic in the US. Cannabis has medicinal properties proven to help patients with a variety of conditions. It’s also proven to relieve pain, stress, and anxiety, which a lot of the US population could enjoy.
Let’s end with the most encouraging bit of news so far in 2019:
News sources around the internet report that MIT and Harvard received immense funding for marijuana research. Private investors have realized the power and benefit of cannabis and have funded extensive research at both Harvard and MIT. With more than $9 million donated, quality cannabis research will look at marijuana in detail. Because these institutions are relying on private funding instead of government funding, they have more leeway into their research. For example, they can look at how marijuana affects schizophrenia, autism, Huntington’s disease, and more. They can also drill down into the 100+ compounds, or cannabinoids, in marijuana to understand their impact and effects.
Expect 2019 to be the year of heightened interest, research, and political machinations around the legality of pot and its users.