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Legalizing and Regulating Marijuana the Right Way (Deep Dive)

This section offers a deep dive into the issue of legalizing and regulating marijuana the right way. To visit the main page for a quicker overview, click here. Otherwise, keep scrolling to learn more.


Why We Must Legalize and Regulate Marijuana the Right Way (and what that means)

Marijuana Legalization Alone Is Not Enough. We Must Do It Right. 

Marijuana reform has come a long way. Most Americans believe that marijuana should be legal. They believe people shouldn’t be criminalized for it.

As of February 2023, it is now legal for adult use in 21 states and D.C. It is legal for medicinal use in 37 states. This includes support from Republicans and Democrats. Eighty-eight percent of Americans now believe marijuana should be legal for medical or adult use.  It is no longer a question of “whether” marijuana should be legal. It is now a question of “how”.

As momentum builds, we at the Drug Policy Alliance believe marijuana must be legalized and regulated in the right way. This means that health, justice, equity, and reinvestment are centered in all marijuana laws or policies. And voters’ support these types of reforms. As marijuana reforms are considered at the local, state, and federal levels, a key priority must be evaluating whether policies meet this standard.

By legalizing marijuana the right way, the US government can undo the harms of marijuana prohibition. They can establish a safe marketplace and promote public health and safety. But taking advantage of this opportunity requires leadership at every level of government.


Problems Caused by Marijuana Prohibition and Putting Profits Before People

Marijuana is Still Criminalized Federally. Many Big Businesses Put Profits Before People

The Controlled Substances Act still criminalizes marijuana at the federal level.

Federally, the main problem is the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). This act regulates certain drugs under existing federal law into one of five schedules.  As a result of its placement on the CSA, marijuana is criminalized.  Marijuana is a “Schedule 1” drug. This means that the U.S. government has labeled marijuana as a drug with a high abuse risk. They claim it has no safe, accepted medical use. We know from research and anecdotal experience that people find many benefits to using marijuana.

History shows us that the scheduling of drugs on the CSA is often about politics, not science. During his presidency, Nixon placed marijuana in Schedule 1 temporarily, pending review by a commission he appointed. In 1972, the “National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse” unanimously recommended decriminalizing personal use. Nixon ignored the report. Unfortunately, the scheduling of drugs is still often rooted in fear and stigma, not science.

State legalization of marijuana only provides state protections. People can still be charged under federal law due to marijuana’s placement on the CSA. This includes federal charges for possession, manufacturing, and distribution. A federal charge can also have consequences. For example, someone in a legal state may still be unable to find housing if they have a federal marijuana charge.  These types of harmful consequences can extend to immigration benefits, employment opportunities, and more. This is why it’s important that the President and Congress remove marijuana from the CSA altogether.

The U.S. Government can end the federal criminalization of marijuana.   

Both the legislative and executive branches of U.S. government can alter marijuana’s status as a Schedule I substance. Despite bipartisan efforts to pass comprehensive marijuana legislation, like the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, congressional efforts to alter marijuana’s status have been unsuccessful.

In October 2022, President Biden released a statement on marijuana reform. He announced a review of marijuana’s status on the CSA and federal pardons for individuals charged with simple marijuana possession. In his statement, Biden said criminalization “failed.” It “upended too many lives” and “imposed needless barriers.” He continued, “while white and Black and brown people use marijuana at similar rates, Black and brown people are arrested, prosecuted, and convicted at disproportionate rates.”

Acknowledging harm is important. But the only way to end federal criminal penalties for marijuana is to completely remove marijuana from the CSA. And because every level of government played a role in the drug war, every level of government has a role to play in ending its harm. This includes government on the federal, state, and local levels.

Not all marijuana reforms are created equal.

Many big businesses and political actors favor full legalization. They will greatly benefit from it. Unfortunately, they want to do it in a way that leaves people who have been harmed behind while increasing their profit. We believe that legalization must undo the harms of prohibition.

This includes creating pathways for people in the legacy market to participate in the legal marijuana industry. It is unfair that businessmen are getting rich doing the same thing that others are in jail for. Our goal is to limit the influence of corporate interests in marijuana reform. We put people first.


Centering Equity in Marijuana Legalization

The Drug Policy Alliance Centers Equity in Marijuana Legalization 

The Drug Policy Alliance is building a world where people are no longer punished for marijuana. Communities most harmed by prohibition should be first in line to benefit from marijuana reform. Our goal is to legalize and regulate marijuana the right way.

As we reform marijuana laws across the United States, these goals must be our north star. The Drug Policy Alliance will continue to fight to ensure reform is done in a just and equitable way.


Benefits of Equitable Marijuana Legalization and Regulation

Unlike Prohibition, Equitable Marijuana Legalization and Regulation Are Creating Positive Outcomes. 

The Drug Policy Alliance is leading efforts to legalize and regulate marijuana ‘the right way,’ in the US. We are already seeing great results.


Join us in legalizing and regulating marijuana the right way. 

The Drug Policy Alliance is leading the fight to end marijuana prohibition. Let’s work together to legalize and regulate marijuana in a way that centers health, justice, equity, and reinvestment. 

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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