Federal Legalization Of Marijuana: Background


Expert Pharmacologist
Jul 6, 2021
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Nearly a decade ago, a majority of Americans expressed support for cannabis legalization, and the trend continues: according to Gallup, 68% of the public supported marijuana legalization two years ago, and that support has held steady since then.

In 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic swept the country, medical marijuana businesses were deemed necessary, allowing them to continue operating alongside pharmacies and grocery stores, which was seen as a success by supporters of legalization. According to the New York Times, it's confirmation that for some Americans, cannabis has become as essential as milk and bread.

Cannabis is one of the fastest-growing industries in the U.S., with sales of adult-use and medical marijuana products reaching $25 billion in 2021, and Wall Street estimates that the amount could grow to $100 billion by 2030.


According to Politico, one in three Americans lived in a state where marijuana was legally available at the end of 2020, and that number continues to grow, especially on the East Coast, where the states of Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and Virginia have joined Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont in passing adult-use cannabis legalization laws.

It has been nearly nine months since the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) received a formal recommendation to reclassify cannabis as a Schedule III drug, but the possibility continues to be a major storyline throughout the industry in 2024.

Specifically, Attorney General Merrick Garland presented three findings before the DEA made a determination on cannabis' potential reclassification under the Controlled Substances Act, including its (1) currently authorized medical use; (2) relative ***** potential; and (3) liability for physical and psychological dependence.

Garland and DEA officials also weighed in on the U.S.'s international treaty obligations under the
1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, a list change opponents continue to insist is a reason to keep cannabis on the Schedule I drug list. Proponents of Prohibition still continue to point to the dangers and health risks associated with cannabis as another reason.


But cannabis hasn't always been treated this way. In fact, the plant was once a legal cross-border import more than 100 years ago, when
«the federal government was not overly concerned about marijuana» according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The political climate regarding cannabis began to change in the early 20th century when immigration across the southern border surged due to the Mexican Revolution of 1910, which opened the door for propagandists to play on fear and prejudice by linking refugees fleeing to the U.S. to negative sentiment. around cannabis, according to TIME.

Approximately 90 years ago, the United States introduced federal prohibition of cannabis with the passage of the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. This law criminalized the non-medical use of cannabis and regulated its importation, cultivation and distribution. Inspired by the 1936 propaganda film Reefer Madness, which demonized cannabis as «the real public enemy number one», the law was enacted.


In the preceding decades, many states began banning the recreational use of cannabis, beginning in 1913 when Wyoming and California took action. Today's state cannabis reforms, however, have varied approaches. By 1933, 29 states had banned cannabis.

In the 1950s, the Boggs Act of 1952 and the Narcotics Control Act of 1956 strengthened the fight against cannabis in America by introducing stricter laws to punish its use. These laws provided mandatory penalties, including imprisonment and fines, for those found in possession of cannabis.

However, it wasn't until the passage of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) in 1970 by President Richard Nixon that cannabis was classified as a Schedule I drug at the federal level, which meant it was banned even for medical purposes. While cocaine and fentanyl were classified as Schedule II drugs.

According to The Oregonian, despite its inclusion in Schedule I, cannabis was decriminalized in 11 states in the 1970s, starting with Oregon in 1973. This wave of reform came after the bipartisan Schafer Commission recommended decriminalizing cannabis for personal use, although President Nixon rejected its recommendation.


Nevertheless, the war on drugs continued. President Ronald Reagan signed the Anti-Drug ***** Act of 1986, which then-Sen. Joe Biden co-sponsored a resolution for new funding for drug treatment programs and increased penalties for drug-related crimes. And in 1989, President George Bush Sr. declared a new war on drugs in a nationally televised speech:
«We all agree that the greatest domestic threat facing our country today is drugs» — he said.

Among the many factors that could impact the cannabis industry in 2024, many stakeholders focus on three major prospects for reform at the federal level: the DEA's decision to restructure, the passage of the Safe Banking Act, and the reauthorization of the Farm Bill.

While cannabis advocates who advocate an «either complete decriminalization or nothing» approach argue that rescheduling cannabis will only continue the disparity in criminalization of its use, incremental reform, including possible listing as a schedule II or III drug, could unleash a wave of consequences related to oversight, enforcement, research, criminal offenses, and normalization if the DEA recognizes the legal use of cannabis for medical purposes in the United States.


Congress had previously debated three significant bills aimed at legalizing cannabis. One supported by 87 Democrats in the House of Representatives, another with the endorsement of five House members from different parties, and a third that was supported by Democrats and was being prepared for reintroduction in the Senate.

In September 2023, Congressman Jerry Nadler of New York reintroduced the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Destruction Act (MORE Act). This bill seeks to federally legalize cannabis through the decontrol and decriminalization of cannabis, as well as provide for the elimination of certain cannabis-related offenses and create reinvestment opportunities in communities affected by cannabis prohibition.

At the time, Nadler was joined by 86 Democrats, underscoring party support for the legislation. Previous versions of the MORE Act have passed through the House twice before, most recently in April 2022, when the legislation passed by a vote of 220 to 204, almost entirely reflecting obvious party lines.


Mays' bill has bipartisan support from four co-sponsors, including House member Tom McClintock, a California Republican; Dean Phillips, D-Minnesota; David Throne, MD; and Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican. But that legislation also has yet to receive a committee hearing.

Then there is also the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA), which Schumer and fellow Democratic Senators Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, and Cory Booker, a Democrat from Georgia, first filed this past Congress. Schumer stated during the National Cannabis Policy Summit 2024 on April 17 that the trio plans to reintroduce CAOA in this Congress.

A previous version of the act proposed a 25 percent federal cannabis tax on any product made in the U.S. or imported into the U.S.. from the DEA to the Food and Drug Administration. Some stakeholders and industry advocates had hoped that these two key provisions were amended at the time (but the legislation failed to gain support in the last Congress).

«I have even more exciting news to share. This month, along with Senators Booker and Wyden — my colleagues — we will be introducing the Cannabis Stewardship and Opportunities Act, which would completely delist cannabis at the federal level. Cannabis legalization has been successful at the state level. It's time for Congress to catch up with the rest of the country» — Schumer said during the latest summit last month.


On May 16, the Department of Justice officially decided to move marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act to Schedule III. The move will not affect the legality of recreational use and sale at the federal level. However, it is the biggest step toward overturning the legal fiction that cannabis is as dangerous as heroin. And it puts marijuana, used more than any other illicit drug in the world, on the path to fully legal recreational use that most Americans support.
Nothing short of full legalization will end the injustice that results in hundreds of thousands of arrests each year for marijuana-related crimes and leaves millions of people of color disproportionately affected by criminalization.

On May 1, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer reintroduced a bill that would end federal criminalization of drugs, eliminate certain marijuana offenses, and create a framework for regulating recreational products.

While the bill is unlikely to pass Congress this year, the current clash between federal and state policy is not sustainable — all while public support for change remains strong. To move forward, we must find a middle ground between flooding *****ren with marijuana ads and imprisoning people for smoking or selling pot. The Biden administration has taken only the first step.


Don't buy from me
Sep 15, 2023
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The odd states need to get on board and legalize it


Don't buy from me
Feb 26, 2023
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Wow, thanks for sharing such an insightful overview of the federal legalization journey for marijuana. It's fascinating to see how attitudes and policies have evolved over time.

I recently went through the process of getting my ohio medical marijuanas renewal, so I've been keeping an eye on these developments. It's clear that there's still a lot of debate and uncertainty surrounding the classification and regulation of cannabis.

Personally, I believe that any steps toward decriminalization and reform are positive, but it's crucial that we continue to push for comprehensive changes that address the disparities and injustices caused by current drug policies.
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