The United States seems to be running full steam ahead with the legalization of Cannabis. America was not always so open minded. Federal Bureau of Narcotics Commissioner Harry Anslinger became a powerful anti-marijuana voice during the 1930’s. His campaign against Cannabis led to the passage of the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, under which the importation, cultivation, possession and/or distribution of marijuana were regulated. Prior to 1937, cannabis had a 5000 year history across many cultures. By 1970, marijuana was classified with narcotics and new, tighter laws were enacted… until now. 

Timeline of State Medical Marijuana Legalization 

In 1996, California became the first state to approve the use of Cannabis for medical purposes.  In 1998 and 1999, Alaska, Oregon, District of Columbia, Washington, and Maine followed, also legalizing medical Cannabis. In 2000 Colorado, Hawaii, and Nevada passed medical marijuana legislation. Vermont and Montana legalized medical use in 2004. New Mexico, Rhode Island, Michigan, and New Jersey all followed between 2007 and 2012, along with Delaware and Massachusetts. In 2013 and 2014 Illinois, New Hampshire, Minnesota, and New York legalized medical use. Arkansas, Florida, North Dakota, Ohio, and Pennsylvania had legislation passed in 2016. West Virginia and Oklahoma legalized medical use in 2017 and 2018. Many health benefits have been found in cannabis. There are also risks that are associated with different ways of consuming cannabis. Many states, however, have already legalized recreational use of marijuana. 

Recreational Marijuana Legalization 

 Colorado and Washington were the first two states to legalize the recreational use of Marijuana together in 2012. Alaska and the District of Columbia joined them in 2014. California, Massachusetts, and Nevada legalized recreational use in 2016. Vermont passed a recreational marijuana legislature in 2018. Virginia passed recreational marijuana laws which will be enacted on July 1, 2021. Many states such as North Carolina, which introduced a legalization bill this week, are expected to be added to this list. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is an advocate of marijuana legalization. He says he is ready to move ahead with major changes to federal laws with or without the support of President Joe Biden. “I want to make my arguments to him, as many other advocates will,” Schumer said. “But at some point we’re going to move forward, period.“ 

Biden’s View on Cannabis

Biden continues to oppose legalization, according to Forbes. They report, Biden supports reforms such as decriminalizing possession, expunging past records, allowing medical cannabis and letting states set their own laws. In November of last year, Biden was criticized for suggesting “there’s not nearly been enough evidence that has been acquired as to whether or not it is a gateway drug.” Days later he was quoted on a conference call saying, “I don’t think it is a gateway drug.” 

Schumer’s interest was renewed after New York moved to legalize recreational Cannabis. The law change will bring about $350 million in new tax revenue for New York. Cannabis has the ability to make the many other states a lot of money in tax revenue. In 2017, the USA accounted for 90% of the $9.5 billion cannabis trade, which is expected to grow to $47.3 billion by 2027.  A key part of making those figures happen is federal legislation of cannabis. 

Written by: Erinn Malloy

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