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Will Cannabis Be Legalized Nationwide?

As progress mounts in the fight for marijuana legalization, advocates are now counting the days until full, nationwide, recreational access to weed becomes the law of the land. Cannabis currently occupies a unique position in the legal structure. It's legal in many states that also tax and regulate it, but the federal government still enforces a total ban on the plant, mostly based on the misguided 1970 Controlled Substances Act, which categorizes marijuana in the same class as heroin. Fortunately, a combination of ongoing medical research into the many benefits of marijuana intake and rapidly shifting public opinion in support of legalization means that states continue to join the legalization effort one by one. Here is a brief overview of how weed legalization has unfolded so far, the history of pot prohibition and what the future marijuana landscape will look like.

It's Not a Matter of "If," But "When"

As the failed alcohol prohibition of the 1920s proves, banning substances as popular as alcohol and marijuana will likely never work. Since the War on Drugs began in earnest under the Reagan administration, marijuana use has either stayed the same or increased, depending on the study you look at. Many states have wisely decided to reap the benefits of legal weed rather than fighting the uphill and, ultimately, losing the battle of trying to suppress its use. The last holdout in the war on marijuana will likely be the federal government. However, even that entity has faltered in its resolve to continue fighting against the cultivation, sale, and use of the plant. Under the Bush administration, DEA raids on legal dispensaries in California were common. The last two presidents, however, have relaxed enforcement in states where the voters have chosen legalization, effectively giving permission to state governments to decide the issue for themselves.

Why Was Cannabis Outlawed in the First Place?

The prohibition of marijuana is riddled with racism, misinformation campaigns, and greed. Several factors contributed to the outlawing of the plant. Racial tensions in Texas between Hispanics and whites were the beginnings of the demonization of users, resulting in the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. Blacks were also targeted in many marijuana propaganda campaigns that used claims that it caused insanity and violence. Business interests, including the cotton and alcohol industries, which did not want the competition that hemp plants presented, spent large amounts of resources lobbying for the prohibition of weed.

Why is it Still Illegal?

Unfortunately, since marijuana was made illegal, a huge federal bureaucracy has grown around enforcement. Entire agencies of the federal government owe huge chunks of their budgets to fighting the plant. Law enforcement, correctional officers, probation officers, and countless other valuable jobs depend on maintaining the status quo. In 2010 alone, 88 percent of U.S. arrests made were related to marijuana possession. As with anything related to government, change is slow. Entrenched interests will continue to resist progress until resistance is no longer possible against public opinion.

Though cannabis is still technically illegal under federal law, it might not stay that way for long. Societal changes in attitude have made it more accepted and popular in the United States in recent years. Moving forward, it is a safe bet to assume that at some point, marijuana will be totally legalized everywhere in the U.S.


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