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New Think Tank Report Details How Far Cannabis in America Has Come Over the Past Few Decades

From medical marijuana programs in over half the states to recreational legalization on both coasts, we’ve come a long way since daily dispensary raids and widespread prohibition.

by Zach Harris

With Attorney General Jeff Sessions sending threatening letters to legal weed states and continuously grouping cannabis with prescription opioids and heroin, it can be hard to remember just how far cannabis has come in the past few decades. Since California started the American medical marijuana revolution in 1996, legal weed legislation and popular opinion has snowballed, creating a rapidly paced changing of the tide.

To look at the country’s cannabis progress, self-described “centrist think tank” Third Way has compiled an incredibly detailed, well illustrated look at legalization’s roadmap to the present, charting the unprecedented growth in support from the American public and state lawmakers, and warming attitudes in Congress.

While California first legalized medical marijuana during Bill Clinton’s tenure in the White House, and a handful of states followed suit during the second Bush’s time in the Oval Office, it was under Barack Obama’s oversight that full-scale legalization began to take hold and medical regulations spread to over half of the country.

“When President Barack Obama was sworn into office, only 13 states had legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes and none allowed its recreational use.” The Third Way report details. “By the time Donald Trump was inaugurated, those numbers had grown to 28 states (plus Washington, D.C.) where medical marijuana is legal and eight states (and D.C.) where recreational use is permitted.”

Now, including states with restrictive, THC-banned medical programs like Texas and Oklahoma, the report claims roughly 98% of Americans live in a state with some form of cannabis legalization. Even with Trump and his top cop’s reefer-madness talking points, the new president’s short time in office has already seen West Virginia join the medical marijuana ranks, with states like New Jersey and Michigan preparing to push recreational legalization next year.

And despite Sessions’ threats of a federal law enforcement crackdown on states with legal weed, public support for cannabis legalization has climbed even quicker than the actions of lawmakers. 

Understandably, the largest wave of pro-weed support has come from young people, with Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers following closely behind, with over 50% of both generations supporting full-scale legalization. 

“This increase in support for marijuana legalization is happening across age groups and political parties.” The authors of the study described. “Millennials remain the most supportive of legalization, with 71% in favor, but large gains have been made among older generations as well.”

In state and federal legislatures, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are starting to take on the attitude of their constituents, with bipartisan support for Cory Booker’s long shot federal Marijuana Justice Act and the unprecedented formation of Congress’ Cannabis Caucus. And while Trump’s next moves concerning legal weed are completely unpredictable, most of 2020’s early rumored presidential challengers have views in line with America’s recent decade of progression.


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Zach Harris is a writer based in Philadelphia whose work has appeared on Noisey, First We Feast, and Jenkem Magazine. You can find him on Twitter @10000youtubes complaining about NBA referees.



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