Marijuana Legalization: What Should You Know?
Beginning back in 2012 on Election Day, Colorado voters were the first to approve a ballot proposal legalizing recreational use and marijuana sales.
Popular support for legalizing marijuana grew dramatically. Despite the cannabis plant being illegal according to federal law, seventeen more states like Washington D.C. and Guam legalized recreational marijuana over the next nine years. You can find the 2019 Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act here.
The difference between decriminalized, legal, and regulated marijuana
Understanding the marijuana legalization debate will help you better understand the several ways recreational marijuana use is differentiated (not counting medical cannabis). Let's get right to it.
Decriminalized marijuana use
Decriminalization is often confused with legalization, which is very different. Being a decriminalized substance means that it's criminalized. Thus there are no criminal penalties for drug law violations.
Decriminalization means that if you are caught in possession of small amounts of a drug for adult use, it isn't seen as a criminal offense. It's still illegal to use the drug, though. Possession of tiny amounts of marijuana is classified as a minor traffic offense in many states. The penalty, however, is typically nothing more than a modest fine, such as $100 depending on the state law. Multiple states have now passed laws decriminalizing the possession and use of marijuana.
Even in jurisdictions where recreational cannabis is legal, owning big amounts or selling marijuana can have severe consequences. As a result, you must still be mindful of your state's criminal laws.
Mark Haden is an adjunct professor at the University of British Columbia and Director of Clinical Health at Psydin. He explains that there are degrees of decriminalization, which could apply to the amount of possession before the law kicks in and the severity of punishment.
"With decriminalization, there might not be a criminal penalty, but civic ones, like a fine, could still apply," he says. "Decriminalization is a scale, really, of the amount of civil and legal sanctions that apply to possession or sale of a substance."
Marijuana legalization essentially means that if you respect state rules regarding age, location, and amount of marijuana consumed, you will not be arrested, punished, or prosecuted for doing so. However, if you don't follow state licensing and taxes requirements, you can still be jailed for selling or trafficking marijuana. In Colorado, for example, black market marijuana is still sold and outlawed despite legalization.
State and federal level legalization occurs within their respective frameworks. However, most people get their hands on the drug through illegal marketplaces or drug traffickers in the decriminalization framework. Once a substance is legalized, it becomes a regulated legal commodity with access limited to legal markets.
Because it's the legalization of a service rather than a product, you won't be able to buy them in a corner store or have home cultivation.
Regulation of the use of cannabis
When a drug is legalized, defining how the government will regulate it is a crucial aspect of the process. Government agencies are primarily responsible for establishing rules and directives that specify how a substance will be licensed, distributed, and administered.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States, for example, assesses which medicines are available for on-label medicinal use — that is, the usage for which it has been officially approved.
Ketamine, for example, is currently permitted to administer for a variety of on- and off-label purposes. Although the FDA licensed it as an anaesthetic, it is widely used off-label for pain management and mental health treatment.
MDMA, popularly known as "ecstasy" or "molly," is another chemical that is now being regulated for legalization in the United States. When used in conjunction with talk therapy, the medication has been shown to help those with PTSD. Phase 3 clinical studies have been completed, and the FDA is currently reviewing recently released data. It could be approved for therapeutic use as early as 2023.
What are marijuana laws in the U.S.?
Opponents argue that marijuana is harmful to public health and safety, and some are morally opposed to its legalization. On the other hand, proponents say that marijuana isn't as hazardous as alcohol, citing evidence of therapeutic benefits such as stress and pain alleviation.
According to proponents, it is also seen as a moneymaker for states and a crucial social justice effort. Marijuana prohibitions have disproportionately impacted people of color, contributing to mass incarceration. States that have legalized marijuana have attempted to alleviate the repercussions of the drug's prohibition by introducing measures that allow for the expungement or vacation of low-level marijuana convictions.
You can find an interactive map of states compiled by Ballotpedia with the medical marijuana laws as well as recreational marijuana status, here.
Federal legalization in 2022: will it happen?
Although an increasing number of states have legalized marijuana, the federal government still considers it unlawful. Support for marijuana legalization is at an all-time high, according to Gallup.
The government should legalize marijuana for recreational use (more than two-thirds of Americans, to be exact). According to a Gallup poll released in October 2019, 66% of adults in the United States believe states should legalize the drug.
The General Social Survey performed by NORC at the University of Chicago revealed similar levels of support for marijuana legalization as in a Pew Research Center poll. In 1969, only 12% of adults in the United States supported marijuana legalization; by 2000, that percentage had risen to 31%. After 2013, it climbed to a high of more than 50%.
Furthermore, the poll indicated that persons under 30 are also more inclined to support marijuana legalization, with 62% of Americans aged 50 to 64 agreeing.
Amazon also wants to endorse a Republican-backed bill
Amazon announced in June 2021 that it would no longer test many job applicants for marijuana and would support attempts to legalize marijuana. The company also recently endorsed a Republican-backed bill in Congress that would change the marijuana law reform on a federal level, leaving it up to states to regulate or prohibit it.
We’re pleased to endorse @RepNancyMace's States Reform Act. Like so many in this country, we believe it’s time to reform the nation’s cannabis policy and Amazon is committed to helping lead the effort. https://t.co/g04Dn5KZq5— Amazon Public Policy (@amazon_policy) January 25, 2022
The States Reform Act, introduced by Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC), would remove cannabis from the federal Schedule I list and impose a new 3% federal tax.
The tax revenue would be used to assist law enforcement and veterans' health services. At the same time, cannabis would remain illegal for anybody under the age of 21 in the United States, except for medicinal marijuana patients.
"Every state is different, and every state should be able to dictate their cannabis laws", Mace told The Post in an interview. "This bill would get the federal government out of the way". She adds, "The beauty of this bill is if you hate cannabis, then I'm not forcing your state to make it legal, but if you like it, and it's legal in your state, then you can use it."
Why is Amazon endorsing the States Reform Act to legalize marijuana?
Amazon wants to endorse this bill because legal issues around marijuana can make hiring difficult.
Mace expects Democrats, many of whom have supported weed legalization for years, to come out in support of her bill. Mace argued that Republicans are also likely to support her bill because it gives more power to states — and because weed legalization is extremely popular nationwide.
"We believe it's time to reform the nation's cannabis policy, and Amazon is committed to helping lead the effort," Amazon said.
Know the laws to avoid any backlash
Familiarizing yourself with where marijuana is legal and where medical marijuana is available could help you in several ways. From knowing where it's illegal to be possessing marijuana to where medical marijuana for pain relief is allowed, it's never a bad thing to know too much! Plus, although local governments and the state Supreme Court are slowly considering marijuana legalization, it's still under consideration. What are your thoughts on the recreational purposes of marijuana? Let's chat below!