New Mexico has become the latest in a series of US states to legalize recreational cannabis, they join a growing tide of legalization bills that are changing the game for the plant and it’s consumption. While this movement is powered by a distinct majority of Americans (even most republicans) it does not yet have the full approval of the current deocratic president, Joe Biden.
Since Monday, cannabis is legal in the American state of New Mexico. It is already the 17th state to take the step to legalization. And four other states are about to do so. Things are moving very quickly in North America as cannabis is already legal in Canada and Mexico has recently followed suit. Two-thirds of Americans – including Republicans – support legalization. But Joe Biden is not yet formally among them.
Cannabis legalization in the US gathers momentum
Under federal law, cannabis remains illegal throughout the United States. But ever since former President Barack Obama’s era, the federal government has generally allowed states to legalize cannabis with minimal interference.
New Mexico joins Colorado, Washington, Alaska, Oregon, California, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Michigan, Vermont, Illinois, Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, South Dakota, New York and Virginia who have already passed some form of legalization. Cannabis has also been legalized in the unincorporated Micronesian territory of Guam, as well as in Washington DC. Voters in South Dakota also voted for legalization in last fall’s election, but the situation there is currently stuck in a legal maelstrom.
New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a marijuana legalization bill into law on Monday. Under the law, adults over the age of 21 will be allowed to use and grow cannabis for recreational purposes. The state will launch a legal, regulated market, expected to begin in 2022, with cannabis products taxed at levels above the state’s VAT. Another measure will allow people with previous marijuana convictions to have their criminal records expunged, and those currently serving time for a soft drug offense will be eligible for remission.
Four more US states on their way to cannabis legalization
And there are still several states on the horizon where cannabis is expected to become legal soon. From Delaware to Minnesota, lawmakers are working to achieve an end to prohibition by the end of the year. While there is no guarantee of success at this point, there is growing support for legalization.
If two more states legalize this year, 2021 will set a new record for the most new legalization laws passed in one year. The process is currently underway in Connecticut, Delaware, Minnesota and Rhode Island.
Proponents of legalization say it eliminates the downside of marijuana prohibition: the hundreds of thousands of arrests in the U.S., the racial disparities that cause those arrests, and the billions of dollars flowing through the illegal marijuana black market to drug cartels who then use that money for violent operations around the world. According to the ‘pro-legalization’ crowd, all of these benefits will outweigh the potential downsides, such as increased cannabis use.
Many more pros than cons for US cannabis
Opponents, on the other hand, argue that legalization will create a huge marijuana industry that will market the drug irresponsibly. They point to America’s experience with the alcohol and tobacco industries, which built their financial empires largely on the backs of the heaviest users of their products. And they also argue that ending prohibition could lead to an increase in the number of people using the drug, which could have unintended negative health consequences.
But these ‘anti-legalization’ folks are in the minority. American voters, even conservative ones, in every state where cannabis legalization or other drug policy reform was on the table, voted decisively ‘yes’ in the last election.
Over the past decade, polls have shown marijuana legalization winning a majority, even among Republican voters, despite their greater opposition to drug policy reform in general.
These polls show that a solid majority of Americans (about two-thirds), and especially a large number of Democrats (more than three-quarters), support marijuana legalization. Yet President Joe Biden, for example, still opposes full legalization and instead advocates decriminalizing marijuana at the federal level, but without allowing its sale.
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