Although federal law has prohibited the use and distribution of marijuana in the United States since 1937 marijuana legalization is still done in some states. For the past five decades states have been experimenting with marijuana liberalization policies. State decriminalization policies were first passed in the 1970s. Patient medical access laws began to get adopted in the 1990s, and more recently states have been experimenting with the legalization of recreational markets.
This has resulted in a spectrum of marijuana liberalization policies across the United States. That is often not fully recognized or considered when conducting evaluations of recent policy changes. Consider for example the state of marijuana policies in the United States at a single point of time. As of January 1, 2016 21 states1 have decriminalized certain marijuana possession offenses (NCSL 2016a). 26 states have legalized medical marijuana use. 16 states have adopted cannabidiol (CBD)-only laws (NCSL 2016b) that protect only certain strains of marijuana to be used for medicinal purposes.
However, there is tremendous overlap because some states have implemented combinations of each of these policies. As shown by the fact that the five states currently legalizing recreational marijuana use. These states include Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and the District of Columbia.
All initially decriminalized marijuana and then passed medical marijuana allowances before passing their legalization policies. Thus, the vast majority of US states have moved away from a strict prohibition position toward marijuana well before they started considering outright legalization.
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