Marijuana’s Legal Future

Marijuana’s Legal Future

Marijuana legalization is a curious topic. The set of facts surrounding marijuana’s progressively more legal status is fascinating.

Take, for instance, the fact that marijuana is still illegal under federal law. That means that state laws are at odds with federal law, and that transferring marijuana across state lines is entirely illegal (this is true even when both states you’re traveling through have legalized marijuana). Under President Obama, the Justice Department eased up on enforcement measures that would bring this conflict to the courts — but that position has been reversed recently on President Trump’s watch.

The federal government’s actions seem to be trending in the opposite direction from public opinion, however. Pro-legalization forces will take heart in the results of recent polls that show support for legal recreational marijuana growing. Multiple polls show a plurality of Americans supporting full legalization (that is, the number in favor outnumber the number opposed, with the number of undecided respondents keeping both totals below 50%). And at least one poll shows an outright majority of Americans favoring recreation weed. Demographic change alone can’t explain the change from past polls, which means that some Americans are changing their minds. It also suggests that, just maybe, we are reaching a tipping point in this debate.

But no one can deny the regional nature of marijuana’s legality so far. The first two states to legalize marijuana (Colorado and Washington) were in the West, and many subsequent legalizations have happened in that same region. That’s because state legislatures often look to neighboring states as models to see what works culturally and economically. The marijuana industry has taken off out West, leading to big profits for growers, dispensaries, and the makers of accessories. And that means big tax revenues for states where marijuana is legal.

Of course, legal marijuana is not without its complications, explain expert marijuana lawyers in California. The states that have legalized marijuana have attached plenty of regulations to their statutes. Marijuana may be legal, but it must be grown, distributed, sold, and displayed in certain ways. It can’t be smoked just anywhere, and dangerous activities such as smoking and driving remain highly illegal.

The success of legal marijuana has lead to a spread in its adoption. And the Northeast may be the next spot to watch: Massachusetts has legalized marijuana through a referendum, and Vermont has followed by becoming the first state to legalize the drug through the legislature. As those policies near implementation, look for states like New York — which trends blue and borders both Vermont and Massachusetts — to contemplate their next moves.

Will this ever mean full legalization? The trends say yes, but expect it to take a while. Marijuana faces unique challenges in some states. Federal legislation won’t necessarily help, because states and localities are usually allowed to govern their own policies on drugs and alcohol (for instance, some counties outlaw alcohol, and the drinking age — though the same across the nation — is technically set by a separate law in each state). And it’s worth noting that medical marijuana is still not universal in the United States, despite enjoying near-universal support among the populace. With support for recreational use still lagging behind support for medical use, the odds are that it will take some time before marijuana is legalized in America’s most conservative states — if it ever is.

“Most people do not really want freedom, because freedom involves responsibility, and most people are frightened of responsibility.” — Sigmund Freud

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