The legality of marijuana in the United States has been under fierce debate for decades. Countless political and cultural movements have made efforts to either legalize or criminalize marijuana, and its status as a schedule I controlled substance has impacted the nation for decades. How did Marijuana become classified in the way it is today, and what is the likely future of the drug?
In 1970, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a list of drug schedules which categorized drugs into separate categories. Schedule I drugs are considered the most harmful of them all, and constitute drugs with high risk and no counterbalancing benefits; Marijuana is categorized as a schedule I drug.
While marijuana’s classification as a schedule I drug has endured fiery debate from the start, the enforcement of statutes outlawing and punishing its use has a mixed history. In recent years, particularly under former President Barack Obama, the federal government has largely stepped back from policing marijuana, instead opting to allow states to decide for themselves how to implement marijuana laws.
Individual states gradually began to decriminalize marijuana as early as the 1970’s, though medicinal cannabis wasn’t legalized until 1996. The states of Colorado and Washington famously legalized marijuana for recreational use for the first time in U.S. history in 2012, unleashing an avalanche of legal change across the nation.
Currently, recreational usage of marijuana is legal in eight states and the District of Columbia. Medicinal marijuana is currently legal in 12 states, and most states have some form of marijuana legalized or decriminalized, with the exception of Kansas, Idaho and South Dakota.
Many states have pending legal or political initiatives to either decriminalize, fully legalize, or medically legalize marijuana. Public support for marijuana’s legalization has grown rapidly in recent decades, with a majority of Americans now supporting it.
The classification of marijuana as a schedule I drug has had a significant impact on U.S. history; millions of arrests have taken place for the possession, distribution, and use of marijuana over the past few decades. Social and legal activist have claimed that marijuana laws often fall along distinctly racial lines, and unfairly lead to greater incarceration rates among minorities.
The full legalization of medicinal and recreational marijuana appears to be continuously gaining support in the United States, though current Attorney General Jeff Sessions, head of the U.S. Justice Department, has signaled his intention to resist legalization efforts. Nonetheless, despite its broad support among the American public, the legalization of marijuana was not a particularly large issue in the 2016 presidential election.
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