Marijuana is one of the most popular drugs on the planet — and one of the safest. Much less likely to kill you than alcohol or tobacco, marijuana can actually help you be healthier in many cases. Scientists and researchers have proven over and over that marijuana has medicinal properties. The drug can ease chronic pain, reduce nausea, and relax muscles, to name just a few of its many health benefits.
Yet, for many years, marijuana was outlawed in the United States and many other countries. The reasons why are hard to fathom now. Early 1900s racism played a major role, as marijuana users included many Mexican immigrants to the United States, as well as black musicians and other people of color in the decades that followed. By the 1930s, dozens of states had made marijuana illegal or were in the process of doing so. Fueled by a misinformation campaign led by sensationalist newspapers, federal prohibition was soon in effect.
And so things remained, until popular opinion began to turn against marijuana prohibition. In 1996, California voters passed a proposition that made medical marijuana legal in the state. Other states followed suit. In 2012, Colorado and Washington state became the first two states to legalized recreational use. Soon, new states were legalizing the drug left and right. Legislative measures and referendum results overturned long-standing prohibition laws in state after state. And that brings us to the present, where marijuana enjoys a newly legal status — albeit a complicated one — in many states.
The present legal status of marijuana
Today, recreational marijuana is legal in 10 states and in the District of Columbia. Medical marijuana is legal in the majority of states — 33 of them, to be exact, plus the District of Columbia.
But this doesn’t mean a legal free-for-all on marijuana, explain California medical marijuana attorneys. In states where it is legal, recreational and medicinal marijuana is tightly regulated. Only a limited number of licenses are issued to growers and sellers, and there are laws against consuming marijuana in certain areas and, of course, against driving while under the influence of marijuana.
There’s lots of red tape to worry about, the legal experts say. In Massachusetts, red tape and local government issues have all but completely stopped new dispensaries from opening. And marijuana remains illegal at the federal level — though the federal government has so far elected not to enforce such laws within states where marijuana is legal.
The future of marijuana legality
So what’s next? In the opinion of most experts, more growth for legal marijuana and the industry surrounding it.
New York seems likely to be the next state to legalize marijuana, as the incoming government and re-elected governor have made it a “first 100 days” priority in 2019. Then there’s Connecticut, Illinois, Rhode Island, and perennial candidate New Jersey, all of which seem to be close to making the drug legal.
All of this would suggest continued growth for the already fast-growing marijuana industry. With new customers entering the legal market, there are opportunities for explosive growth. North American cannabis buyers were already expected to spend nearly $50 billion per year by 2027 — up from less than $10 billion in 2017.
Of course, the red tape will remain. New buyers and growers will need to team up with attorneys and secure licenses in order to go into business. Individuals in many states can grow small amounts of marijuana for personal consumption and can own reasonable amounts of the drug, but the industry seems certain to remain a legally complex one for businesses far into the future.