Allegations that the legislative push for marijuana policy reform has stumbled in recent months (“Marijuana advocates hit unexpected roadblocks in 2019,” June 2) are nothing short of a pipe dream.
Nearly one in four Americans reside in a jurisdiction where the adult use of cannabis is legal, and 33 states regulate medical marijuana access by statute. No state has ever repealed a marijuana legalization law, and two-thirds of adults — including majorities of self-identified Democrats, Republicans and independents — endorse making the plant legal, according to the latest Gallup poll. As more states amend their cannabis laws, public support for legalization continues to rise.
Moreover, 2019 has been an unprecedented year for the passage of state-level reforms. Illinois lawmakers voted to legalize adult use cannabis sales, making it the eleventh state to legalize marijuana outright and the first to comprehensively do so via legislative action. In addition, legislators in three states — Hawaii, New Mexico and North Dakota — have moved to decriminalize marijuana possession. The New York legislature just voted to expand its existing decriminalization laws. This would make the possession of up to two ounces of cannabis a fine-only offense. Also, nearly a dozen states, including Illinois, Oregon, Nevada and Washington, have passed legislation in recent weeks to expunge past marijuana convictions.
Legislators in several other states enacted laws this year expanding medical cannabis access, while Alaska, Colorado and Massachusetts voted to permit business to allow on-site marijuana consumption. In Nevada and New York City, employers may no longer sanction workers for their off-the-job use of cannabis. In Oregon, newly passed legislation forbids homeowners from denying housing rentals to those with past cannabis convictions.
Numerous municipalities nationwide, such as Cincinnati, Ohio; Louisville, Kentucky; and Macon, Georgia have enacted citywide ordinances in recent months decriminalizing activities specific to marijuana possession. Similarly, prosecutors in a number of major cities, such as Baltimore, Rochester and Norfolk, have recently announced that they will no longer bring charges against low-level marijuana offenders.
At the federal level, members of the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time overwhelmingly voted in favor of legislation halting federal interference in state-specific marijuana laws. Other important pieces of federal reform legislation, such as measures to provide medical cannabis access to military veterans, to facilitate banking with the cannabis industry, and even to remove the marijuana plant from the federal Controlled Substances Act altogether, are gaining momentum.
These historic votes at the state and federal level are further evidence that politicians, including those at some of the highest levels of government, are now recognizing the rapidly changing cultural and legal status of cannabis. In short, public support and political support for reform has never been greater. There is a growing percentage of Americans expressing the belief that marijuana legalization, at its core, “is a matter to freedom and personal choice.”
Of course, as with any legislative issue, there remain hurdles in place and there will inevitably be occasional setbacks. Nevertheless, our overall progress continues and shows no signs of slowing down. State by state, our victories are mounting and those who advocate for a return to the days of cannabis criminalization are rapidly losing influence and credibility among lawmakers and in the hearts and minds of the American people.
Paul Armentano is the Deputy Director of NORML — the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws — and he is the co-author of the book “Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink?“