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Marijuana Legalization in the U.S.: Getting to the Root of Things

The topic of marijuana legalization in the U.S. has become unavoidable. It’s everywhere.

The marijuana industry has gained attention in recent years. Yet, there’s still a lack of knowledge on marijuana and its path to legalization.

And for good reason.

The life of marijuana in America has been a complex one. It’s filled with political and social confusion about its uses and effects.

It has only become a hot topic in the last two decades. But marijuana’s influence reaches farther back in American history.

That’s right – marijuana has a past prior to the 1970s.

Early Roots

1600-1890s: The construction of America required raw materials. Hemp was used for a range of products: food, rope, clothing, paper, housing materials and more. Since the country was in need of these products, the government forced farmers to grow hemp.

Following the Civil War, imports and other materials replaced hemp. Marijuana gained use in medicine instead.

1906: The Pure Food and Drug Act required labels on cannabis products.

1920s: Recreational marijuana was popular among immigrants brought in by the Mexican Revolution. Americans shifted their negative views of immigrants onto marijuana.

1930: The Federal Bureau of Narcotics began.

1930s: The Great Depression increased resentment toward Mexican immigrants. States linked marijuana with crime and violence. Twenty-nine states banned the substance.

1936: The film “Reefer Madness” warned people about the dangers of marijuana.

The Seed of Prohibition Is Sown

1937: The Marihuana Tax Act made it difficult to buy and sell medical marijuana. It also banned individual possession and sale. Prohibition kicked off.

1950s: The federal government created mandatory sentences for marijuana possession and use.

1960s: Recreational marijuana gained widespread use. It became especially popular among the white upper-class. This proved that marijuana did not cause crime or violence.

1970: Marijuana became a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act. As a Schedule I drug, marijuana was deemed more dangerous than heroin.

1972: President Nixon appointed the Shafer Commission to assess marijuana laws. The consensus was to decriminalize marijuana. Over the next decade, 11 states followed this ruling and others reduced penalties.

1986: President Reagan signed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act. This put in place federal mandatory sentences for drug crimes.

Growing Legislation From the Ground Up

1996: California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana.

2000-2011: Over a dozen more states legalized medical marijuana.

2012: Colorado and Washington made history. They were the first states to pass recreational use.

2018: Congress passed the farm bill which legalized hemp production across the U.S.

2019: Medical marijuana is legal in 33 states and D.C. Recreational use is legal in 11 states and D.C.

Marijuana Legalization in the U.S.

User Trends

Public opinion on marijuana has swayed to and fro within the last century. And so have the trends of who’s using it.

In 2017, 1 in 7 U.S. adults reported that they had used marijuana within the past year. That comes to about 55 million people.

And young people don’t make up the entire population of users. The age range of users is expanding as more legalization policies pass. The nation’s recent trends show this pattern.

The baby boomer generation saw a 19% increase in marijuana orders in 2017 – the largest of any age group. And the second-largest increase – at 13% – came from the Gen Xers.

And why is that? Because with age comes pain – and with marijuana comes relief.


Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are two of the main compounds in marijuana.

THC is the psychoactive part of the plant. So, the larger the THC content, the more intense the high is for a user. But CBD contains little to no THC, so it doesn’t give off a high.

Despite their differences, both THC and CBD have medical benefits.

CBD can help treat a variety of medical conditions, such as…

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • inflammation
  • inflammatory bowel disease
  • migraines
  • nausea
  • pain
  • psychosis or mental disorders
  • seizures

THC can aid with similar health issues:

  • anxiety
  • glaucoma
  • insomnia
  • low appetite
  • muscle spasticity
  • nausea

The health benefits of CBD and THC are gaining recognition.

In fact, in 2018 the FDA approved the first drug containing CBD. The drug, Epidiolex, is being used to treat patients with severe epilepsy.

Besides humans, CBD has also gained use in pets. And people are becoming more curious about it in response, as search trends prove.

Marijuana Legalization in the U.S.

CBD has become common in lotions, topicals, lip balms, drinks, candy and more. And they’re not only sold in pharmacies, but in retail companies like Neiman Marcus, DSW and Barneys.

CBD is becoming mainstream. And that’s why the CBD market is expected to grow faster than the adult-use and medical markets.

Medical vs. Recreational/Adult-Use

Medical marijuana must be prescribed by a doctor to treat certain illnesses. It typically contains both THC and CBD.

Recreational marijuana is used without the advisement of a doctor. It usually contains more THC than medical marijuana.

Decriminalization vs. Legalization

Decriminalization lowers the penalties for marijuana offenses. But the substance is still illegal.

Legalization is different. In general, it means the government won’t penalize people for having or using marijuana. Of course, these nuances vary state by state and country by country.

The Public Consensus on Marijuana

Marijuana has gained favor since the 1960s.

The changing tides of legislation prove it.

And polls show that 2 in 3 Americans support legalization. But the march to legalization has just begun.

Public opinion has done much to push the process along. From individuals to groups, the change has been gradual, yet hard-earned.

Influential Groups and People

Advocates range from politicians to celebrities to religious leaders. Support for marijuana is far and wide – ranging from Snoop Dogg and Martha Stewart to Gene Simmons.

This is especially true for three advocacy groups.

The first being the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). It began in the 1970s, when the public opposed legalization. It is now the largest grassroots organization in marijuana reform.

The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) has worked to change legislation since 1995. The MPP focuses on removing penalties related to marijuana. It also aims to increase access for ill people.

Americans for Safe Access (ASA) worked in marijuana legislation since 2002. ASA’s goal is for Americans – especially those with illnesses – to have access to safe marijuana.

Groups like ASA, MPP and NORML have unified many supporters. And their efforts have focused on changing both public opinion and legislation.

Political Climate

States have made huge strides in legalization. But the federal government still stands in the way.

Marijuana is a Schedule I drug. So in the eyes of the federal government, it carries no health benefits and has a high risk of abuse.

Though some states have had legal sales for years, the industry is still fragmented at the federal level.

The federal blocking of marijuana has led to the rise of the multistate operator (MSO). MSOs set up operations in states one by one. Each has its own market and set of rules.

MSOs wouldn’t have started without several noteworthy states.

Marijuana Pioneers: California and Colorado

As the first state to legalize medical marijuana, California set the tone for change across the U.S.

Colorado also became a key player when it was the first state to legalize adult-use in 2012.

Both states are still evaluating the impacts of legalization. But early results are promising.

For example, marijuana brought in about $2.75 billion in sales for California in 2018. Colorado also collected almost $1.55 billion in sales for 2018.

Marijuana Legalization in the U.S.

And marijuana sales don’t appear to be stopping anytime soon.

But money is just one of the reasons legalization is sure to roll in from other states.

In fact, Illinois became the 11th state to pass recreational use of marijuana on May 31, 2019.

And that’s not the only news. In the past year alone, we’ve made strides with federal legislation.

Marijuana Legalization in the U.S.: On the Horizon?

Marijuana may be illegal at the federal level, but for how long?

As more states legalize, pressure mounts on the federal government. In turn, many strides are being made in federal legislation.

The 2018 Farm Bill is one of the most important pieces of legislation for the U.S. cannabis industry. It allows hemp production across all 50 states. Hemp was formerly grouped with marijuana as a Schedule I drug.

The SAFE Banking Act is also a key piece of legislation. It would protect banks in business with cannabis companies. This would allow marijuana companies to have access to more financial prospects.

Under the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act, marijuana would no longer be a controlled substance. The act would also decriminalize marijuana at the federal level.

The STATES Act would let states form their own laws on marijuana without input from the federal government.

2020 Election

Many presidential candidates in the upcoming election support marijuana. Most back federal decriminalization or legalization. But some argue that it is should be up to each state.

Marijuana will be at the forefront of many candidate’s platforms. Which makes the presidential race a key time for marijuana in the U.S.

Marijuana Legalization in the U.S.

What’s Next in the Marijuana Field?

Roughly 60% of Americans live in a state where medical marijuana is legal. And about 25% live in a state where recreational marijuana is legal. Not to mention, there are plenty of other states on the edge of legalization.

As the U.S. moves further along the path to legalization, the marijuana industry is developing.

It’s not just corporate wise either. The changes include state regulations, new markets, supply chains and more.

All of which will play into the U.S. marijuana market. One that’s expected to be worth $80 billion by 2030.

Politicians hold a major footing in how the market will turn out.

So keep a look out to see where the election heads – marijuana will be sure to follow.

And only time will tell where the plant (legally) pops up next…

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