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Why Hasn’t the Entire United States Legalized Cannabis?
Angela LydonNov 8, 2023 12:00:00 PM5 min read

Why Hasn’t the Entire United States Legalized Cannabis?

As of 2023, the United States now has 23 states that have legalized cannabis- which is almost half the states in the country. Over recent years, cannabis has become more widely accepted allowing for legal sales of cannabis and its products. Cannabis can be seen in many industries including food service, cosmetics, and health care. So, why hasn’t it become legal across the entire country, and will it ever? 

Some states may only want marijuana legalized in specific industries 

Since cannabis has infiltrated many other popular industries, this allows for specific legalization and flexible options for regulating cannabis use. For example, some U.S. states only have marijuana legalized for specific areas such as healthcare. Other states may differ on the amount in grams a person can have possession of. The differences in state, town, or city policies can vary, allowing more freedom per state to determine what level of legality they see fit. 


Specific areas may hold more traditional values or beliefs going against cannabis 

Recent studies show that most supporters of cannabis remaining criminalized, are older generations of adults. It is likely they formed a view on cannabis long ago and stand by their values. Cannabis may also go against a person’s religious views as well. This makes it more difficult to decriminalize across the country, as some states may have a larger quantity of older adult residents. 

Some conflicting data may influence state-wide decisions 

While there are many reports and studies on cannabis, its legalization overall is still very new. Although it is much more accepted in the modern day, it was illegal for so long that studies on the legal usage of cannabis are more short-term compared to other substances. Researchers may find some conflicting data that deters them from legalizing in an illegal state. 


Some states want to prevent drug use from the country’s youth 

While cannabis has shown so far to have benefits, it is still technically a drug. When cannabis still contains THC, it alters the mind and can affect someone’s ability to think clearly or make decisions- like alcohol. While we have a legal purchasing and possession age for marijuana products, it can be relatively easier for younger teenagers to obtain. Kids and teenagers’ minds are still developing, and marijuana can have a negative impact on that growth. There are parents in many states where cannabis is still illegal, who agree with the state’s current policies. 

Will cannabis ever be fully legal in the United States? 

No one knows for sure- and the reason for this comes with the conflicting viewpoints. With over 330 million people living in the U.S. across 50 states, it can be very challenging for everyone to agree on solutions or policies that fit everyone’s values and opinions. It is likely more states will legalize some areas of cannabis, such as having small amounts or allowing medicinal practices, but only time will tell for now. 

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1. Why hasn't cannabis been legalized federally in the United States?

The federal prohibition on cannabis has historical roots, and understanding the complex reasons behind its continued prohibition involves a combination of social, political, and economic factors.

2. What role do state laws play in cannabis legalization?

Cannabis legalization in the U.S. operates on a state-by-state basis, leading to a patchwork of regulations. The varying state approaches contribute to the overall complexity of the issue at the federal level.

3. How has public opinion influenced cannabis legalization efforts?

Public attitudes toward cannabis have evolved, with growing support for legalization. Despite this, political considerations and differing opinions among policymakers have hindered nationwide legalization efforts.

4. What economic considerations are involved in cannabis legalization?

Cannabis legalization brings economic benefits, including tax revenue and job creation. However, concerns about the impact on existing industries, potential public health risks, and regulatory challenges have influenced the pace of federal legalization.

5. How does cannabis's classification as a Schedule I substance impact legalization efforts?

The federal classification of cannabis as a Schedule I substance, alongside drugs like heroin, has created significant legal barriers. Changing this classification is a crucial step for broader legalization.

6. What are the challenges of reconciling state and federal cannabis laws?

The conflict between state and federal laws creates challenges for businesses, law enforcement, and consumers. Clarifying and harmonizing these laws is a key consideration in the ongoing legalization debate.

7. How have other countries approached cannabis legalization, and does it influence the U.S.?

International examples of cannabis legalization, or varying degrees of decriminalization, may influence U.S. policies. Observing the outcomes and challenges in other nations is an essential aspect of the broader discussion.

8. What role does social equity play in cannabis legalization discussions?

Advocates emphasize the importance of social equity in cannabis legalization, addressing the historical impact of prohibition on marginalized communities. Crafting inclusive policies remains a focal point in legalization conversations.

9. How has the legal cannabis industry's success impacted the push for federal legalization?

The thriving legal cannabis industry in states where it's permitted has demonstrated economic viability. This success has influenced discussions at the federal level, prompting considerations of potential national benefits.

10. What are the current legislative efforts and proposals for federal cannabis legalization?

Keeping abreast of legislative developments, such as proposed bills and policy changes, provides insights into the ongoing efforts to legalize cannabis at the federal level. Understanding the political landscape is crucial for those following this issue.

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Van Green, T. (2022, November 22). Americans overwhelmingly say marijuana should be legal for medical or recreational use. Pew Research Center. Retrieved October 16, 2023, from,legalizing%20it%20for%20recreational%20purposes.