Will 2021 be the year that marijuana becomes legal federally? If some top lawmakers have their way, then it’s quite likely.
So far, 15 states and D.C. have legalized marijuana for adult recreational use, and 36 states allow medical use of marijuana. So, when will the others join?
The Politics of Cannabis
In February, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer was joined by two other Democratic senators in announcing they are pushing to pass sweeping legislation in 2021 that would end the federal prohibition on marijuana. As mentioned, marijuana is already legal to some degree in many states.
Although support for full-blown decriminalization of marijuana continues to grow, some analysts suggest lawmakers are more likely to pass a law comparable to the Safe and Fair Enforcement Bank (SAFE) Act. SAFE passed the House in 2019 but was never taken up for a vote in the Senate despite strong bipartisan support.
Such a bill would repeal current laws prohibiting banks and other financial institutions from providing financial services to canna-businesses. Once those roadblocks have been eliminated, more resources would open up for canna-businesses to expand operations.
While American citizens appear to be divided on nearly every other issue, the country basically stands united on marijuana use. Gallup reports as many as 48% of Republican respondents support marijuana legalization, along with 83% of Democrats. What’s more, in the 2020 Election, two Red States, Montana and South Dakota, legalized adult-use cannabis.
A new Democratic administration filled the Executive brand in 2021, and experts expect that to play a large role in upcoming major cannabis reforms.
Communications Manager at Marijuana Policy Project Violet Cavendish told Green state, A supermajority of Americans support legalization, and there is no excuse for inaction.
Cavendish added that as more states move forward with legalization, the pressure at the federal level will continue to build. Cavendish’s group, the Marijuana Policy Project, is hopeful that Congress will pass marijuana reform legislation this year.
In order for federal legalization to happen under the new administration, there must be compromise and cooperation between President Joe Biden, the House, and the Senate, in addition to consistent momentum from cannabis supporters.
When Biden was on the campaign trail, he promised to decriminalize cannabis and automatically expunge all prior cannabis use convictions as part of his Plan for Black America. The pledge received widespread approval from the Democratic Party and was a driving force in Biden’s bid for the presidency.
Public Support for Marijuana Hits All-Time High
The latest pushes for federal marijuana legalization come as public support for marijuana hits an all-time high. A Gallup poll in late 2020 showed that a record 68% of Americans are in favor of legalizing marijuana. Back in 1969, when Gallup first asked the question, just 12% were in favor.
What’s more, every initiative that involved the decriminalizing or legalization of marijuana on the ballot in 2020 passed.
New Jersey and Arizona voters said yes to legalizing marijuana for adult recreational use. Mississippi voted to legalize medical marijuana, and South Dakota voted to legalize recreational and medical marijuana use.
What Does Federal Law Say About Cannabis?
On a federal level, marijuana is illegal per the 1970 Controlled Substances Act. In 2018 the law was amended with the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 to allow for plant material with trace amounts of THC or no more than 0.3%.
What Are the Pro-Easing Regulation Arguments?
In a joint statement published in February, Senators Chuck Schumer, Cory Booker, and Ron Wyden announced their comprehensive cannabis reform legislation plans. The lawmakers attested to current marijuana laws disproportionately harming people and communities of color. They went on to write that reform is needed to censure restorative justice, protect public health and implement responsible taxes and regulations.
Data from 2019 shows many other reasons why cannabis reform supporters believe marijuana should be legalized, including:
- Cannabis has medicinal benefits
- Law enforcement could focus more on other, more pressing crimes
- Individual freedom and choice
- Potential tax revenue
- Regulation would make marijuana use safer
- They don’t believe marijuana is harmful
There is hope for marijuana legalization in 2021, and at the very least, policies that pave the way for marijuana legalization in the near future. House Democrats have already shown support for de-scheduling marijuana as a measure that President Biden approves.
What about the arguments against easing regulations?
Some of the arguments against easing federal marijuana regulations include:
- Lack of evidence for therapeutic benefits
- Some people actually can become addicted to cannabis. Data from the NIH shows about 10% of cannabis users become addicted. The figure among adolescents skyrockets to 25-50%.
- People who start using marijuana before age 12 are more likely to experience a serious mental illness, including anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia, compared to people who start using when they are 18+.
If marijuana were to become federally legal, it would have many positive benefits. Firstly, it would put an end to government interference with cannabis research, making it much easier and more effective for scientists weighing the risks and benefits of the plant. Legalization would also make marijuana more accessible for medical and mental health purposes. Legalization would also lead to increased understanding and normalization of cannabis use, enabling more people who could benefit from the plant to seek it out.