Why Marijuana Is Not Legal in the U.S. Federally (Yet)
We’re experiencing something of a pot renaissance right now. Countries across the world are relaxing their marijuana laws, with almost every modern economy inching toward cannabis legalization in one form or another.
Chief among them (and most important) is the United States. U.S. marijuana legalization in 2019 is likely to continue making huge strides, but is being held back by one key roadblock: the federal government.
You see, while marijuana is being legalized in the U.S. on a state-by-state basis, technically this is being done outside of federal law.
What this means is that, since federal law supersedes state law, federal agencies like the Drug Enforcement Administration have the power to crack down on ostensibly legal operations in any of the states where marijuana sales are permitted.
We haven’t seen anything of the sort though. In fact, quite the opposite.
Marijuana has begun garnering more and more political support from elected officials, with key members of both the Democrats and Republicans pushing forward with pro-marijuana messages. Some Democrats have even gone as far as to make marijuana reform a key pillar of their platforms.
In any case, the marijuana industry will not be able to truly flourish until the U.S. legalizes it across the country. As it stands, companies have to grow and sell their marijuana within state borders, denying them the ability to trade across state lines—even though it could be more efficient to produce their plants in a different state.
Furthermore, large banks have been reluctant to store marijuana profits, since that money is technically vulnerable to being seized by federal authorities.
The situation is improving, however, everywhere from Congress to the White House.
To explore further, let’s take a look at the recent marijuana legalization history in the United States.
Map Showing States Where Marijuana Is Legal
As seen in the below map, the majority of the U.S. population now has access to legal pot in one form or another. With the exception of Texas, every populous U.S. state has legalized recreational marijuana.
What this map demonstrates is that the U.S. is, for all intents and purposes, a pro-marijuana country. The real barrier to full legalization is at the federal level. But as more and more states join the list of jurisdictions with legal cannabis, expect to see the pressure mount on the federal government to catch up with the times.
It’s worth noting which states are pot holdouts: ones in the South and the American Heartland. Both areas skew Republican, but a Democrat winner in the next presidential election would likely push the needle greatly toward federal marijuana legalization.
Marijuana Legalization History
U.S. marijuana legalization in 2019 is looking great, but it didn’t get there overnight. It’s the product of decades of transformation in public and political views on pot.
In 1973, Oregon became the first U.S. state to decriminalize the drug, marking a huge turning point in the way Americans viewed what is largely considered a mostly-harmless drug by healthcare professionals.
From there, other states began pushing for marijuana law reforms. Another major stride was in 1996, when California legalized medical marijuana.
This is hugely important because, as we’ve seen time and time again, medical marijuana reform almost always precedes recreational marijuana reform.
Many states followed the Californian example until 2012, when Colorado and Washington became the first two states to legalize recreational marijuana.
Many other states have since followed, and we now have 10 states plus Washington D.C. that permit recreational marijuana, with an additional 22 states permitting medical marijuana.
Next came the all-important Cole Memo, which was a Barack Obama administration policy to not prosecute marijuana operations in states where it was legalized, even though federal law was technically being broken.
This status quo remained until the end of Obama’s presidency (and the beginning of Donald Trump’s).
While President Trump has been cagey at best in relation to pot, he later came out in favor of states’ right to decide on how to deal with marijuana.
But Trump had also named Jeff Sessions as attorney general. Sessions was a notorious anti-drug crusader who had retrograde views when it came to marijuana.
There were concerns that Sessions would crack down on marijuana using his power as AG, and that seemed plausible as he rescinded the Cole Memo.
Fast-forward to present day, however, and Sessions has since been ousted from the top law enforcement spot in the country, taking his anti-pot views with him. Looking ahead, U.S. marijuana legalization in 2019 will see its biggest political push yet federally.
The cannabis industry has already scored several wins in the United States.
The 2018 Farm Bill has bipartisan support and is likely to be made into law, allowing hemp to be produced across the country. It also opens the U.S. up to the cannabidiol (CBD) trade, which is one of the more lucrative sectors related to the marijuana industry.
On top of that, a recent Gallup poll shows that two-thirds of Americans support marijuana legalization, with that number climbing with each new poll that gets released. (Source: “Two in Three Americans Now Support Legalizing Marijuana,” Gallup, Inc., October 22, 2018.)
And lawmakers are beginning to find their spine on this issue.
Whereas in the past, most marijuana legalization processes have been launched through direct ballot initiatives (citizen referendums with direct voting), Vermont recently became the first state to start its marijuana legalization process in the legislature.
And it appears that this will become a growing trend.
Overall, the situation for U.S. marijuana legalization in 2019 is better than it has ever been in the past. In the last midterm elections, Michigan voted to legalize marijuana and Utah voted to approve medical marijuana. Massachusetts has recently begun selling legal marijuana, with impressive numbers rolling in.
And the next state-level legalization of recreational marijuana is fast approaching.
Next States to Legalize Weed
The two states most likely to legalize pot next are New Jersey and New York.
While New York has made several smaller steps toward marijuana legalization (like New York City’s abandoning its prosecution for many marijuana crimes), New Jersey is right around the corner from legalization.
A legalization bill has been approved in a preliminary vote in New Jersey, and is all but certain to pass both state houses in the coming weeks.
This means New Jersey will be the second state to legalize marijuana through the legislature, adding millions to the number of Americans who are able to enjoy pot legally.
Can You Profit From Marijuana in the U.S. Today?
Regardless of the outcome of U.S. marijuana legalization in 2019, there are already many great marijuana stocks trading in U.S. markets.
All the pure-play marijuana stocks on the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq are Canada-based, but that doesn’t prevent investors from buying in.
Furthermore, many of these companies are looking to acquire—or have already acquired—U.S. assets for future marijuana production.
While I doubt that U.S. marijuana legalization in 2019 will take place at the federal level (although the current administration is known for surprises), we will likely continue to see a steady stream of state-level legalization roll out across the country.
Furthermore, we’re likely to see more politicians make this a priority issue as it gains increased popular support—especially as the 2020 presidential election nears.