The Past: How Cannabis Policy Has Evolved

Apr 01, 2024

Gallup Poll

The Past: How Cannabis Policy Has Evolved

When MPP was founded in January 1995, medical cannabis was illegal in every state, and the prospects for adult-use legalization looked dim at best. 

The way the United States views cannabis has undergone a dramatic shift in recent decades. Once demonized as a dangerous gateway drug, public opinion and legislation are finally catching up to the reality of cannabis use. 

The Green Wave: American's Support for Marijuana Legalization from 1969-2023

Cannabis wasn't always outlawed. In fact, hemp, a variety of the cannabis plant with low THC (the psychoactive compound), was an important crop throughout American history. However, the 20th century saw a shift — the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 effectively criminalized cannabis at the federal level, fueled by racism and misinformation.

In the early 1970s, President Richard Nixon appointed a group known as the Shafer Commission to study cannabis and its use and make recommendations. The Commission issued a report on its findings on March 22, 1972, calling for the decriminalization of cannabis possession in the United States, at both the state and federal levels. But the White House ignored it.

Still, the tide began to turn in the mid-20th century with the rise of medical cannabis advocacy. By the 1970s, some states decriminalized possession of small amounts. Public perception also started to change as more people began to recognize the potential medical benefits of cannabis.

The 21st century saw a dramatic shift when Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize adult-use cannabis for adults in 2012, sparking a domino effect. The public's view on cannabis continues to evolve, with growing support for legalization across all demographics. 

As more states opt to legalize and regulate adult-use cannabis, federal reform efforts are gaining momentum, with promising opportunities ahead for rescheduling cannabis and reforming banking regulations.

By understanding the history and evolution of cannabis policy, we can engage in a more informed discussion about its future.