One by one, states throughout the country are legalizing marijuana at the state level—even though marijuana remains illegal at the federal level. In some states, restrictions are still very tight, decriminalizing marijuana or only permitting it for prescribed use for certain medical conditions. In other states, you can easily buy marijuana online and even have it delivered.

What’s the next step for this movement, and when will marijuana become legal at the federal level?

A Note on Terminology

First, it’s important to clarify some terminology:

·         Fully illegal. When marijuana is considered “fully illegal,” that means it’s unlawful to be in possession of the drug for any purpose. If you’re caught with the drug, you could face criminal charges, no matter how much or how little you have.
·         Decriminalization. When marijuana is decriminalized, it remains illegal. However, if you’re caught with a relatively small amount (for personal consumption), you won’t face arrest, prison time, or the prospect of a criminal record. In other words, cops won’t pursue criminal charges against you for a minor, first-time offense.
·         Medical use. In some states, marijuana is legal for medical use. Marijuana is proven to be useful in treating a wide variety of conditions, including glaucoma and chronic pain. If you have a prescription, you can buy and use marijuana freely.
·         Legalization. Full legalization means that marijuana is legal to buy and use for any purpose, even recreationally. Right now, some states have fully legalized marijuana—despite the fact that federally, it remains illegal.

Current State Acceptance

Currently, there are 6 states holding out that still categorize marijuana as fully illegal: Idaho, Wyoming, Kansas, Tennessee, Alabama, and South Carolina. However, there are 15 states (and the District of Columbia) that have fully legalized the drug. If you’re doing the math, 12 percent of states have fully criminalized the drug, while 30 percent of states have fully legalized it. That leaves about 58 percent of states somewhere in the middle.

We can use states as a kind of informal tracker of where legalization is headed; states tend to move toward legalization, rather than away from it, and nearly all states are making this forward progress. In a few years, we may see half or more states fully legalizing marijuana, and then, it becomes a matter of time before other states jump on board.

Public Acceptance

As of November 2019, more than two-thirds of Americans support the legalization of marijuana at the federal level. This number has grown significantly in the past decade. In 2010, 52 percent of U.S. adults were opposed to legalization; this has fallen to 32 percent in less than a decade.

Note that this is a survey about full legalization. If you expand the survey to include legalizing marijuana for medical use, the number of U.S. adults in favor of legalization grows to 91 percent. That means only 9 percent of U.S. adults believe that marijuana shouldn’t be legal for any purpose.

Accordingly, it’s apparent that most people in the United States are on board with legalization, and if this trend continues, it won’t be long before nearly all adults are in favor of it. It took 10 years for the opposition to fall from 52 percent to 32 percent; in another 10 years, that could fall to 12 percent, with 88 percent in favor of full legalization. At that point, the majority will be so overwhelming that politicians will be practically forced to take action.

The Controlled Substances Act (CSA)

Marijuana remains prohibited at the federal level because it’s currently classified as a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). For a drug to be added, deleted, or changed in schedule, a number of regulatory procedures must be followed. These can be initiated by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), or by an interested party; oftentimes, these interested parties are pharmacy associations, drug manufacturers, or medical associations seeking a drug to be rescheduled so it can be approved for medical use.

Currently, marijuana is still identified as “highly addictive,” with “no medical benefit,” despite strong evidence to the contrary—and more evidence added all the time. What will it take to get marijuana rescheduled or deleted from inclusion in the CSA? With popular support and states falling like dominos in favor of legalization already, it’s hard to say.

The future of recreational marijuana remains uncertain, despite growing public acceptance and legalization in a growing number of U.S. states. However, the momentum seems to be favoring widespread marijuana legalization in the coming years. If this is an important issue to you, regardless of which side you’re on, make sure you vote regularly and voice your opinions to your representatives.