The landscape of marijuana policies in the United States is experiencing significant changes, highlighted by recent federal and state actions. At the forefront is President Biden’s announcement of a pardon for all prior federal offenses of simple possession of marijuana. This pivotal move marks a departure from the longstanding federal stance on marijuana, underlined by the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970.
Despite marijuana’s continued prohibition at the federal level, there is an expanding policy gap with state regulations. As of June 2021, 36 states, four territories, and the District of Columbia have enacted medical marijuana laws, diverging from federal legislation. This discrepancy raises questions about the coherence of marijuana policies across different levels of government.
The CRS Legal Sidebar reports that the Consolidated Appropriations Act 2023 bars the Department of Justice (DOJ) from taking legal action against states to prevent them from implementing or enforcing medical marijuana laws. This development suggests a growing tolerance at the federal level for state-level marijuana liberalization.
Public health implications of cannabis legalization are also under scrutiny. Research has indicated mixed outcomes following medical marijuana legalization in several U.S. states. There have been significant increases in cardiac mortality rates, but also reductions in opioid prescribing, especially in areas with legal cannabis dispensaries. However, an increase in tobacco sales in these states has also been noted.
Marijuana remains the most commonly used federally illegal drug in the United States, with about 18% of Americans using it at least once in 2019. Approximately 3 in 10 people who use marijuana have a marijuana use disorder, and the risk of developing this disorder is higher for those who begin using marijuana before age 18.
With the federal government and individual states navigating different paths regarding marijuana legislation, the future of cannabis legalization in the U.S. remains a complex and evolving issue. Understanding the implications of these policies, especially in terms of public health, legal coherence, and social impact, is critical for informed decision-making and policy development.