The United States hit a marijuana milestone a while back, though it has largely been overlooked in the hoopla following the start of retail weed sales in January. But it’s a marker that signals both how much things have changed and how rapidly they’re still changing.
It’s debatable exactly when it happened, but at some time this year or last, the U.S. hit the point where more than half the states had adopted marijuana reform. And more than half of Americans live in those states.
On March 21, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signed a law that allows parents to use a cannabis extract to treat children with severe forms of epilepsy. The oil comes from a strain high in CBD, a chemical thought to quiet seizure activity in the brain, and low in THC, the chemical that gets users high.
CBD-only laws have become a favorite of deep-red states where full medical marijuana, with access to strains high in THC, won’t fly politically. They’re too little too late for most MMJ patients, but they have added several new states to the “win” column for weed reform.
And when Herbert signed the bill in March, his state officially became the 29th in the nation to adopt some version of reform: medical pot, legalization, or decriminalization.
That means 58 percent of Americans now live in places that are turning the corner on a shameful history of prohibition.
It’s been a long time coming. Weed was once legal in the U.S. and commonly used for its medicinal properties. But it was outlawed, mostly on racist grounds, by the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937.
The cannabis plant and the drug it produces have remained illegal ever since, banned by federal law. Most pot busts, however, are handled by local police acting under state laws that also prohibit it.
Given the obstacles of national politics, those state statutes have always been easier to change. That’s why marijuana proponents, from potheads to patients, have long targeted statehouses across the country – with stunning success in recent years.
Twenty-five states now have some form of medical cannabis or will soon. Three, Utah, Kentucky, and Alabama, adopted CBD laws in March. The Mississippi Legislature passed similar legislation that month, but the governor has yet to sign it.
A total of 16 states have decriminalized weed by replacing criminal penalties with civil fines. That includes Maryland, where lawmakers passed decriminalization in April.
And two states, Washington and Colorado, have gone all in and legalized recreational marijuana for adults over 21. Others are expected to join them in coming years, including Alaska and Oregon, which could legalize as early as this year.
Such progress would have been unthinkable just 18 years ago, when Californians went to the polls and adopted the first medical marijuana law in the nation. But there’s more to come, and plenty of it.
Along with Alaska and Oregon, plans are underway to legalize California, Nevada, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and other states from coast to coast. Several states are considering medical marijuana, whether CBD oil or full MMJ. And decriminalization is on the table in several others.
Momentum is a powerful force in politics: Once a movement gathers it, it can’t be stopped. Weed has momentum, and the old laws are unlikely to last for long now.