Cannabis prohibition started at the federal level in the United States in 1937 with the passage of the Marihuana Tax Act. The federal legislation banned cannabis in all forms throughout the United States.
While the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 was later ruled to be unconstitutional, cannabis prohibition remained in place via the Controlled Substances Act which took effect in 1971 and has remained the law of the land ever since.
Despite federal cannabis prohibition, a number of states have reformed their cannabis laws, often in direct defiance of federal law. The first state-level cannabis reform victory occurred in Oregon in 1973 when state lawmakers passed a possession decriminalization measure which made possession of less than an ounce of cannabis flower a civil infraction (ticket) rather than a crime.
One of the most significant cannabis reform victories in United States history occurred in 1996 when California voters approved the nation’s first medical cannabis legalization measure. The victory in California created a domino effect with dozens of other states following California’s lead and moving to legalize medical cannabis in subsequent elections and legislative sessions.
Washington State and Colorado later made history by becoming the first state to legalize cannabis for adult use in 2012. Several other states have since also legalized cannabis for adult use. Despite the numerous state cannabis reform victories, federal prohibition has remained in place, which is obviously ridiculous.
Gallup polling has asked United States voters every year since 1969 if they support cannabis legalization. In the poll’s first year, only 12% of voters stated that cannabis should be legalized in the U.S. Support has surged ever since, with the most recent poll (2019) finding that 66% of U.S. voters now support cannabis legalization.
With significant support for legalization across the country, many states now on the right side of history when it comes to cannabis policy, and a booming legal cannabis industry many are asking the obvious question - when will cannabis be legal nationwide in the U.S. and will it happen soon?
I once posed this question to United States Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR). Blumenauer is a long-time champion of cannabis reform in the U.S. and was part of the state legislature that passed decriminalization in Oregon in 1973. He has introduced numerous cannabis reform measures in Congress over the years and is as well-qualified to answer the legalization question as anyone in the country.
What Congressman Blumenauer told me was that he doesn’t see the United States legalizing cannabis at the federal level, but rather, that Congress will vote to remove cannabis prohibition at the federal level and let states decide the matter for themselves. He feels that is an approach that is easier to get support for among federal lawmakers that come from states that seem to not want to legalize cannabis for adult use, such as in Idaho and other conservative states.
It is unclear how interstate commerce would occur in that type of scenario, however, different states have different alcohol laws and the system works, so it’s not an entirely foreign concept. With the legal cannabis industry growing in size at an exponential rate heads are starting to turn in Congress, especially when considering the economic toll that the ongoing pandemic is having in every state, including states that prohibit cannabis.
It’s anyone’s guess as to whether or not 2021 will be the year that federal cannabis reform is achieved, and even if it does happen, what that reform will specifically look like. With that being said, it’s more likely than ever that 2021 could be the year that reform efforts get pushed over the top in Congress.
If you want to help move things along, make sure to contact your federal lawmakers early and often and explain to them that prohibition is a failed public policy, it is a clear form of institutional racism as the math clearly demonstrates, and that it is time for a more sensible approach!