6 Facts to Know About the Legalization of Marijuana

The state of Colorado took a massive step towards the betterment of humanity when in 2012, they voted to approve a ballot initiating the process to legalize the recreational use and sale of cannabis, becoming the first state in the U.S. to do so. This momentous occasion would set the ball rolling for other states.

In the next ten years, eighteen other states, along with Washington, D.C., and Guam, would go on to legalize marijuana. Public support continues to increase despite marijuana being illegal at the federal level. But why the delay in legalization? The most obvious is that some strains of the cannabis plant contain the psychoactive compound called THC, which is the element that produces a ‘high’ when it is ingested.


Today, support is growing for marijuana legalization, and state legislatures are grappling with balancing the if and how of marijuana legalization. The most recent bill related to decriminalizing marijuana was passed on April 1, 2022.


Which states have legalized recreational marijuana?

Based on the National Conference of State Legislatures findings, 19 states and the District of Columbia have legalized the adult use of marijuana for recreational purposes. Four states and Washington D.C. allow recreational use of marijuana, whereas 19 states allow it for medical purposes only. Fourteen states have decriminalized it.


  • Colorado
  • Washington
  • Alaska
  • Oregon
  • Washington, D.C.
  • California
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • Nevada
  • Michigan
  • Vermont
  • Guam
  • Illinois
  • Arizona
  • Montana
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Virginia
  • New Mexico
  • Connecticut
  • Rhode Island


For the states that have outright legalization, the possession and consumption of marijuana are legal for people aged 12 and above. In Washington D.C., only possession and growing of marijuana have been legalized. In contrast, Alaska, Washington, Oregon, and Colorado are either in the process or have already instated a system where marijuana can be legally sold, taxed, and regulated.


Keep in mind that in the 19 states where medical marijuana is legal, regulation varies state by state. For instance, California cannabis laws are not as strict as Texas cannabis laws for medicinal marijuana. States differ significantly in their statutes, so make it a point to read the regulations in your state before you possess, consume or grow marijuana. In states where marijuana has been decriminalized, there are softer penalties concerning possession, such as no jail time or fines.


What does federal law say about marijuana?

Cannabis is still classified as a Schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 by the Drug Enforcement Agency. It also still does not accept marijuana for medical use and is considered a ‘high potential for abuse.’ In 2013, President Barack Obama instructed the Justice Department to defer to state regulations in jurisdictions that legalized marijuana, stating that ‘the state will impose an appropriately strict regulatory system.’


This guidance, known as the Cole Memorandum, was rescinded in 2018 by Jeff Sessions, the attorney general under President Trump. Advocacy groups are encouraging President Joe Biden to direct attorney general Merrick Garland to legalize marijuana and reinstate the Cole memorandum.


Advocacy groups are also pushing for the Marijuana Opportunity and Reinvestment Expungement Act. This act would abolish federal criminal penalties for possessing, distributing, and growing cannabis. This act also pushes to institute a tax on cannabis to help communities impacted by policing focused on non-violent marijuana-related crimes. This money would be channeled to youth mentoring, job training, and legal aid programs.


What is the situation like in states that have legalized marijuana?

The short answer to this is- they are doing just fine. No chaos has descended on Colorado, which introduced marijuana recently, or has the state experienced any loss in productivity. It is, however, reaping millions of dollars in tax revenue. Recreational sales also exceeded medical sales of marijuana in the state, increasing the evidence that state-regulated marijuana is a more viable alternative than its black-market counterpart.

In Washington, the state that rolled out legal marijuana more recently than Colorado, there was a shortage of the plant for retail purposes. That said, no significant consequences or adverse scenarios have occurred in states that have legalized marijuana.


What can regulation do for society?


It makes society safer

The evidence is clear. When marijuana is regulated, public safety increases. This is a commonsense principle that has been evident throughout history in many industries and various countries. Making something illegal only increases problems as there’s no societal awareness, no check and balance, and no protection. Just as consumers are protected by health and safety standards in restaurants or pharmaceutical companies required to undergo quality checks and compliance to get FDA approval, regulating marijuana will also increase product quality and prevent any potentially harmful additives from being added.


Red flags will be more evident

Regulation also helps keep prices affordable for marijuana. As competition grows, product quality also increases, creating a well-informed society to make better decisions in purchasing good legal quality marijuana.

This reduces the need to acquire marijuana from the black market, which means foul play in the industry will become easier to spot. Legal marijuana phases out black-market options, making access for minors much more difficult.


Legalization improves our understanding of marijuana’s health effects

There will also be more conversations, research, and public discourse on the responsible use of marijuana. Marijuana is currently considered illegal at the federal level simply because the Drug Enforcement Administration says it does not have proven medical value. But without proper research and scientific inquiry into the drug, it will systematically hamper the advancement of science to unlock the potential for marijuana and create awareness of the potential health risks associated with the drug. Currently, there is substantial evidence that marijuana alleviates pain and nausea, but without legalizing the drug, it makes it hard for researchers to study the benefits and risks. Marijuana is still an under-explored drug, and without the proper reforms, society cannot start looking into more complex issues related to the carcinogenic properties of marijuana.


As consensus grows to legalize marijuana, there’s hope that more and more states will legalize the drug and open up new ventures to test the drug’s actual effects on society.


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