The Questions and Grades
Because marijuana is listed as a Schedule 1 drug by the federal government, it is technically illegal everywhere in the United States under federal law. However, many states have taken the initiative in decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana, allowing doctors to prescribe cannabis for medicinal purposes, and even creating regulated retail markets so people can purchase marijuana for recreational use. More countries are beginning to see the benefits of legalising cannabis, for example, with legalization of recreational use in Canada, the need for valid prescriptions hasn’t dissappeared.
The federal government has chosen largely not to interfere with these decisions. Under the Obama administration, Attorney General James M. Cole issued a memo directing federal prosecutors not to prosecute those violating federal cannabis laws in states where cannabis was legal, with certain exceptions. While current Attorney General Jeff Sessions has rescinded this memo, states have still been granted considerable autonomy on marijuana policy.
Each state starts with an A, and its grade can be lowered based on its relevant policies. There are three questions that are relevant to state-wide policy on cannabis legalization:
- Is Medical Marijuana Legal? We consider this to be the most important question because of the incredible medicinal properties of cannabis. In addition, studies have shown that legalizing marijuana for medical purposes helps states fight the opioid epidemic. Any state that has not legalized medical marijuana is docked two full letter grades. Currently 30 states and DC have legalized medical marijuana.
- Has Possession of Small Amounts of Marijuana Been Decriminalized? We believe that the decriminalization of marijuana possession is a productive and beneficial policy. Black Americans are arrested at nearly four times the rate of White Americans, despite similar rates of marijuana use. While decriminalization does not erase that disparity, it leads to drastically fewer arrests among all races. Any state that has not decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana is docked one full letter grade. Currently 22 states and DC have decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana.
- Is Recreational Marijuana Legal? We believe that marijuana use, abuse, and adolescent use can best be controlled by a legal recreational marijuana market regulated in a manner similar to sales of alcohol and tobacco. Decriminalization alone cannot solve all of the problems inherent in the prohibition of marijuana. Any state that has not legalized recreational marijuana is docked one full letter grade. Currently, 8 states and DC have legalized recreational marijuana.