The journey of cannabis in our country has been a bumpy one. Although weed had been used as medicine for thousands of years and back as far as 1619, Virginia required colonists to grow hemp, marijuana has been vilified over the decades with 29 states banning it by 1933 after the “success” of alcohol prohibition.
On August 2, 1937, Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Marihuana Tax Act that firmly put prohibition into place. With one swift move of the pen, it set off decades of prohibition built on fear and disinformation. The war on weed waged on amidst smear campaigns, politicization and categorization as a Schedule 1 controlled substance.
Decriminalization and medical marijuana conversations began to take off in the 1970s with the Shafer Commission issuing a report for the removal of marijuana from Schedule 1 status. President Nixon decided to ignore those findings.
Medical Marijuana Ushers in Recreational Use
Since the eventual legalization of medical marijuana in 1996 in California, great strides have been made and, currently, 11 states have legalized the adult use of recreational cannabis with many more considering it. 6 additional states may soon consider it:
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- Vermont (it is legal to grow and possess recreational marijuana now but it is still illegal to buy or sell it)
So for the states that currently have legal legislation on the books, has it been a success or a dismal failure?
What the States Say
According to a recent survey published by You.gov, the majority of people in these states have agreed that cannabis legalization has been a success. They surveyed more than 32,000 Americans in current legal states to ask if their current recreational legislation has been a success or failure in that state.
Colorado and Washington were the first states to legalize recreational use in 2012. 71 percent of the respondents in Colorado called their legislation a success to 17 percent saying that it was a failure. In Washington, 65 percent of survey participants said that they considered recreational legalization a success in comparison to 18 percent considering it a failure.
Other states reported a similar attitude:
- Oregon: 69 percent success, 20 percent failure
- Massachusetts: 67 percent success, 15 percent failure
- Nevada: 64 percent success, 17 percent failure
- California: 59 percent success, 20 percent failure
- Illinois: 59 percent success, 17 percent failure
- Michigan: 56 percent success, 20 percent failure
- Maine: 47 percent success, 20 percent failure
Alaska and Vermont did not report a sizable enough sampling response.
Interestingly, the success rate seems to be predicated on both the passage of time since legislation was passed and also the availability of retail options. Colorado, Washington and Oregon, as some of the earliest adopters of recreational legislation, have been able to fine-tune their retail availability, whereas Maine is still waiting for its first recreational stores to open because of an indefinite hold due to Covid-19. California has seen a great inconsistency in availability where many mostly rural areas have banned retail establishments altogether.
For those states that have legalized recreational use of marijuana, some of the incredible benefits have been tax revenue, income and job creation. As more states move to decriminalize marijuana and the economic benefits become clearer, at some point we may see nationwide legalization. But, as it stands, there is still ample push-back standing in its way.