The Present: Tackling Prohibition State-by-State

Apr 08, 2024

milestone, state policy

This April, we’re doing a deep dive on the past, present, and future of cannabis policy. Check out our recent post highlighting some of the major historical milestones that paved the way to where we are today. 

Cannabis policy reform has come a long way over the past decade in particular, beginning with Colorado and Washington in 2012. After years of hard fought victories, 24 states have passed laws to legalize cannabis for adults 21 and over, with over half of the country’s population now residing in a legalization state. Furthermore, 38 states have passed laws to legalize medical cannabis. 

This rapid state-by-state reform reflects a dramatic shift in public opinion, with over two-thirds of Americans now in support of legalization. According to a recent Pew Research poll, only one-in-ten Americans still believe that cannabis should be completely prohibited.

Today, legalization policies are providing states with a robust revenue stream to bolster budgets and fund important services and programs. Through the end of 2022, states reported a combined total of more than $15 billion in tax revenue from legal, adult-use cannabis sales. Legalizing and regulating cannabis for adults has also generated tens of thousands of jobs across the country. 

However, at a time when the cannabis policy reform movement has more momentum and popular support than ever – and the legal cannabis industry is booming with billions of dollars in sales – state and federal prohibitionist policies are continuing to ruin lives with their destructive and discriminatory approach that criminalizes cannabis users.

There are still 19 states where possessing a single joint can land you in jail, and approximately 40,000 people are currently behind bars for violating draconian state cannabis laws. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s national crime report, over 225,000 people were arrested for cannabis offenses in 2022, more than those arrested for all other drug offenses combined. 

The federal government still classifies cannabis as a Schedule I drug worthy of the most severe restrictions and criminal consequences. This outdated categorization creates a tangled web of issues — banks are hesitant to work with cannabis businesses due to federal restrictions, hindering economic opportunities, and research into the potential medical benefits of cannabis remains limited.

But despite the roadblocks, there are real glimmers of hope — from President Biden granting a mass pardon for those with federal cannabis possession convictions, to the Department of Health and Human Services issuing an official recommendation to reschedule marijuana.

While we’ve made many positive strides towards a sensible and humane legal cannabis reality, the ongoing war on cannabis demands our unwavering focus as prohibition states double down on enforcing destructive and discriminatory policies. 

Our team is working with allies to move legalization efforts forward in New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Louisiana. We are also working with allies to enact medical cannabis-related bills in state legislatures in Kansas, North Carolina, and South Carolina, and are supporting decriminalization measures in several states.

Marijuana Policy Project

The cannabis reform movement is at a pivotal moment. 

The reality is that there is far more work to be done building our movement if we hope to achieve significant federal cannabis policy reform. Staying informed about legislative efforts and advocating for change at the state and federal levels is crucial. 

To support our ongoing efforts to replace the failed policies of prohibition with equitable and just legalization laws, please sign up for Email Action Alerts and make a contribution to the MPP Cannabis Justice Fund

With continued public support and a willingness to address the remaining challenges, the United States will finally see a more sensible and sustainable approach to cannabis policy.