Marijuana’s reputation in the United States has seen a dramatic shift over the past four to five decades. It has gone from having an intensely negative legal and social stigma including heavy condemnation from the government, to being increasingly accepted by the public and legalized for medicinal use in twenty states (legalized for recreational use in two). Even the current President of the United States openly admitted to inhaling marijuana in his past. Times are truly changing and fast for the controversial plant, which leads many to ask: what is marijuana’s future in the United States?
So far, the states that have legalized marijuana for medicinal use are, in alphabetical order: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington (also District of Columbia). Colorado and Washington are the only states that have also legalized the recreational use of marijuana (quick note for those who don’t already know: medicinal use is for patients whose doctors prescribe and deem marijuana as a sufficient medicine to their ailment(s) while recreational use is allowed for anyone twenty-one years or older). With more states considering medicinal and even recreational legalization, it seems marijuana’s future in America is inching closer and closer to a nationwide legalization, but that is only speculation at this point. Between conservatives (particularly in the South) still opposed to the acceptance and use of marijuana as well as the fact that marijuana is still federally illegal, there is still plenty of red tape to circumvent before aforementioned nationwide legalization could occur.
Wait, so regardless of whether it is legalized for medicinal or recreational use, marijuana is still illegal under federal law? Yes, and federal law supersedes state law which has been a confounding factor in this whole debate. However, the Obama administration has said numerous times over the past few years that they will not interfere with any state’s decision to roll out their own laws to legalize or decriminalize marijuana. Rather, the administration will focus its efforts on preventing trafficking from states where marijuana is legalized to states where it is still illegal. It will also look to see whether or not states will be able to successfully keep marijuana out of the hands of minors. Presumably, if the state appears to have an insufficient ability to fulfill the latter, the feds will most likely step in. Despite this perplexing relationship between states and the federal government, at least fourteen more states are slated to attempt passage of either decriminalization or medicinal/recreational legalization, with rumors that Alaska will be the next state to legalize recreational use.
Assume for a moment that fourteen states do at least legalize the use of medicinal marijuana in the next year or two. That would bring the overall total of states that have legalized the herb from twenty to thirty-four, more than half of the United States of America. Furthermore, it seems that at least in a couple of states (Washington and Colorado) where medicinal use was legalized first, legalization for recreational use followed. If even just a few more of the twenty states (such as Alaska) with medicinal legalization take the next step and pass recreational legalization, a pattern or precedent might emerge, causing something of a trend among other states, ultimately leading to more widespread legalization across the country in a relatively short amount of time. But again, this is just speculation. There are still a large number of variables involved in shaping marijuana’s future in the United States.
There are many reasons for which states decide to decriminalize or legalize marijuana in any capacity, but it mostly comes down to what is best for the state and its welfare, as well as what its population wants. Thus, a state’s decision to legalize marijuana for recreational use reflects the majority opinion of the public and government that legalization would benefit the state. There are a staggering number of ways that recreational use of marijuana can benefit a state, from increases in state tax revenue, consumer purchases of goods and services and even an increase in overall happiness, to keeping hundreds and even thousands of people out of prison for minor marijuana offenses, saving significant taxpayer money.
One other major benefit to continued legalization that cannot be overlooked is increased allowance for further research into the medicinal applications of marijuana. Of course, there is already a plethora of revelations from past research such as its ability to reduce pain and stress in cancer patients, but there is still a lot more to be learned and discovered. For example, there was a very recent breakthrough in a study suggesting that marijuana may stop the spread of HIV.
In consideration of the aforementioned, it is difficult to ascertain marijuana’s future in the Unite States, but as more states consider legalization, it is difficult to ignore a growing shift in national attitude toward Mary Jane (one of many alternative names for marijuana). If it does become legalized nationwide, will tobacco companies and other big corporations swoop in to take control and/or advantage of the market? Will the sale of marijuana on the black market become pointless and obsolete? Will the federal government’s war on drugs become more effective by focusing less on marijuana and more on hardcore, harmful drugs? Will the United States become a mecca for marijuana enthusiasts across the globe (and subsequently one of the chillest places to chill)? It is tough to know for sure and there is still a lot to speculate and debate about, but if the current chain of events continues and legalization keeps occurring from state to state, the answers to the aforementioned questions will most likely be answered sooner rather than later.
By: Taylor Schlacter