Marijuana legalization has felt like an inevitability for a long time. Public sentiment toward it has been high for years. As time wears on, weed’s most vocal opponents sound dumber by the day. Studies have proven it’s not a gateway drug or anywhere near the Schedule I distinction it still holds federally. And as public sentiment has shifted, policy has shifted along with it.
A new Quinnipiac poll found that 69 percent of Americans support legalization to just 25 percent opposed. A Pew Research poll found that 91 percent support legalizing weed for medical and/or recreational purposes. These numbers are far too stark to chalk up to polling errors. New York, Virginia, and New Mexico recently joined the ranks of states legalizing marijuana, which will bring the total to 18 by this summer. Medical marijuana is already legal in 36. The question isn’t if marijuana will be legal everywhere in America, it’s when.
Still, that “when” could take a while. There are several hurdles yet to clear even as public sentiment for legalization widens and more states enact it. Democrats like New York Sen. Chuck Schumer have made decriminalization central to their agenda, promising a bill soon. But it’s not as simple as “flipping a switch,” as Andy Serwer and Max Zahn write for Yahoo. Several experts have advised caution over hopes about the feds suddenly legalizing weed, basically attributing delays to bureaucracy and figuring out profit models. The pathway to legalization was always through state legislation, and that’s what’s happening—slower than many might like, but surely.
And even as weed becomes more legal across the country, other issues follow. Canada has faced numerous problems in the wake of legalization, mainly to do with supply and demand. Distribution regulations have firms still taking massive losses and saddled with far more supply than they need. That could work itself out over time as regulations ease up, but it’s an issue America cannabis industry leaders don’t want to replicate.
But perhaps the biggest question American legal weed faces is accounting for people most affected by drug criminalization. New York passed a law last month “expung[ing] the records of people convicted of marijuana charges that are no longer criminalized.” But dropping charges and freeing prisoners is just one piece of the puzzle. Making a newly legalized weed industry as equitable as possible is a much bigger one, as “at least 80 percent of the cannabis industry is run by white founders and business owners.” Getting in early on the legal weed business is a little easier when you’re almost four times less likely than Black people to be arrested for marijuana in the first place. Industry regulators and purveyors need to account for that inequity.
Will that accounting actually take place? We’ll see. States like New York passing legislation is a good sign, but as business machinery takes over, words like equity and fairness are tossed aside. That’s what happens when major profits are in sight. But the good news is still good for now. It’s easier to hold and smoke weed in America now than it’s ever been before. And it’s hard to imagine it ever getting more difficult.