Marijuana Legalization and Regulation

There is more public support for marijuana law reform than ever before with polls showing more than half the country is in favor of legalizing marijuana. The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) believes marijuana should be removed from the criminal legal system and regulated for adult use, with equity, social justice, and community reinvestment at the core.

Recent Victories

New York

For years, DPA has been on the forefront working to reduce marijuana arrests in New York state and legalize marijuana for adult use. Our Start SMART NY campaign fought to end marijuana prohibition in New York and create a new, well-regulated, and inclusive marijuana industry that is rooted in racial and economic justice. In March 2021, Governor Cuomo signed marijuana legalization into law, following the state legislature’s overwhelmingly approval of the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA).

What does the MRTA do?

  • Allows the responsible use of marijuana by adults 21 and over within a tightly regulated system
  • Significant updates and improvements for the medical marijuana and hemp farming programs
  • Includes vital protections against housing and employment discrimination and addresses additional devastating impacts of marijuana prohibition in the fields of immigration and child welfare
  • Protects young people by reducing access to marijuana and promotes comprehensive, reality-based drug education
  • Establishes a licensing system that favors small businesses and family farmers, not large corporations, including co-op and microbusiness licenses that can reduce barriers to entry for people with less access to capital and traditional avenues of financing
  • Uses tax revenue for social good like community reinvestment, job training, youth programs, and drug treatment programs

Learn more about this victory in New York.

New Mexico

For decades, racist cannabis enforcement has targeted Hispanic/Latinx, Black, Native, and Indigenous people in New Mexico. DPA has been advocating for years at the state legislature for passage of legislation allowing the possession, use, and sales of marijuana. In March 2021, New Mexico passed the Cannabis Regulation Act and an automatic expungement and resentencing bill.

What does the Cannabis Regulation Act do?

  • Protects against denial of benefits for the use of cannabis 
  • equity in the new marketplace by allowing individuals with prior cannabis convictions to work and be licensed 
  • Protects medical cannabis patients
  • Allows for personal grow
  • Decriminalizes and eliminates all fines and fees for minors who violate the Act
  • Keeps families together by not taking kids away from their parents because of cannabis use

Learn more about this victory in New Mexico.

Jasmin's Story

Jasmin Reggler was proud of her new job as legislative aide to a Rochester City Council member, but she was fired after just one month when her drug test came back positive for marijuana. Jasmin was not willing to accept the loss of her job for using marijuana on her own time, and she knew that many others had been unfairly denied employment or deterred from even applying for the same reason. She advocated for change, and as of May 2020, city job applicants and employees are no longer tested for marijuana. Drug testing job applicants and employees without evidence of workplace impairment is not only invasive and humiliating but cuts off paths to employment and familial stability.

I was supposed to be a legislative aide for one of the city council members. I got my drug test back and I had tested positive for cannabis. At that moment, the city was like, you're done. That's the end of it. For a moment, it makes you feel helpless. It makes you feel like you're not good enough. And they're not factoring in your work ethic. They're not factoring in references. It's only based on one thing, and one thing that you're not even doing at that moment.

Learn more about how the drug war robs livelihoods at

Federal Initiatives

DPA has worked tirelessly to pass the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment & Expungement (MORE) Act in Congress. We worked with House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler and then Senator Kamala Harris to draft and introduce the legislation, and partnered with other national civil and human rights organizations to form the Marijuana Justice Coalition, which has worked to ensure that federal marijuana reform puts those who have been most harmed by prohibition front and center.

What does the MORE Act do?

  • De-schedules marijuana at the federal level to let states set their own policies without federal interference 
  • Expunges prior marijuana convictions so we can start repairing the extensive damage done to communities of color from decades of biased law enforcement
  • Establishes a federal tax that would be used to assist the people and communities most harmed by marijuana prohibition with programs like job training, substance use treatment, and cannabis business licensing

What do we know so far about marijuana legalization so far? 

Read our January 2018 report to learn how and why marijuana legalization is working.

Why Should We Legalize?

Reduce harm
The criminalization of marijuana use disproportionately harms young people and people of color, sponsors massive levels of violence and corruption, and fails to curb youth access.

Create jobs
Legalizing and regulating marijuana will bring one of the nation's largest cash crops under the rule of law. This will create jobs and economic opportunities in the formal economy instead of the illicit market.

Save money
Scarce law enforcement resources will be better used to ensure public safety while reducing corrections and court costs. State and local governments would acquire significant new sources of tax revenue from regulating marijuana sales.

Promote consumer safety
Marijuana product testing is becoming a standard requirement for legalized marijuana markets. This means consumers are better informed about the marijuana they use.

Marijuana Legalization and Regulation