It seems like it’s been a long time since the first state passed legislation about marijuana – probably a lot longer than you think. During the Victorian era you could get marijuana tinctures in any drug store, and marijuana was used medicinally in different solutions. Interestingly, we didn’t know you could smoke marijuana until Mexican culture brought it north in the early 1900’s. This is also when we started trying to control how and where marijuana was used:
In 1906, the Federal Pure Food and Drug Act designated cannabis as an ingredient companies are required to list on their ingredients labels. By 1925, more than half the states had totally outlawed marijuana, and for the most part, it didn’t seem like a very contentious change. Then, the development of the Uniform State Narcotic Drug Act from 1925 to 1932 normalized marijuana being categorized as functionally equal to cocaine, heroin, and opium.
And then the Federal Bureau of Narcotics took hold. The next two decades saw a cascade of bills regulating, limiting, and taxing marijuana use, medicinal or not, and by the ‘50’s, federal and state legislation was implementing mandatory sentences for marijuana possession and distribution.
With the passing of the Federal Controlled Substances Act in 1970, marijuana became federally illegal. And until California legalized medical marijuana in 1996, further acts and amendments added things like the three strike rule and no-tolerance policies to this plant that had historically always had a place in medicine.
The Modern Medical Marijuana Movement
The pendulum swung back pretty fast after that first California bill in 1996. It seems that since then there’s at least one state each year that legalizes medical marijuana to some extent. And even with Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2005 that solidified the federal illegality of marijuana, the states haven’t stopped.
The interesting thing is, during that restrictive time of the 70’s through the 90’s, behind-the-scenes legislation was opening the door specifically for medical marijuana, with the first federal program passed in 1978, Proposition P in 1991, and the Compassionate Use Act of 1996. So, while the loudest voices of the medical cannabis conversation seemed to virtually change overnight when California legalized it, regenerative medicine doctors all over the country had known it was coming for a while.
To date, 38 states, 4 districts and Washington DC have legalized medical marijuana.
States Leading the Charge in Alternative Medicine & Botanicals
Per most investigative medicine and progressive social issues, the West Coast has spurred and sustained the long process of legalization, first with medical marijuana and more recently with recreational marijuana and even psychoactive mushrooms in medicinal contexts. The first 5 states to legalized medicinal marijuana were:
- California (1996)
- Alaska (1998)
- Oregon (1998)
- Washington (1998)
- Maine (1999)
The five most recent states to legalize medicinal marijuana were:
- Missouri (2018)
- South Dakota (2020)
- Virginia (2020)
- Alabama (2021)
- Mississippi (2021)
Interestingly enough, even though Virginia didn’t legalize medical cannabis until 2020, it turned right around in 2021 and legalized marijuana for recreational use as well.
Who’s Still Not Convinced of Marijuana’s Value to Medicine?
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
You’ll notice in all these little snippets that regions of states tend to go or remain as a group. Virginia was an outlier, but take the group of states who first legalized it, and this group of states who have yet to – for the most part, in both cases they’re all neighbors. This is a reflection of how the legalization of medical marijuana has really been a domino effect in this country.
What’s Next for Medical Cannabis in the US?
There are a few things that make the future of medical marijuana in the US look like it’ll be pretty bright. States with MMJ programs are seeing huge influxes of capital from the taxing of their medical marijuana programs. States are seeing job growth and more money into the local economies as medical cannabis businesses pop up. There’s evidence it decreases alcohol consumption, and poses no risk to workplace productivity, traffic accidents, or crime rates.
It’s not as surprising as it would have been in the past, then, that this Spring the House voted on a measure to make marijuana federally legal. Is this the year? Who knows. Regardless, Ohio’s laws allow doctors to recommend marijuana to patients for a variety of chronic ailments, allowing our residents to become less dependent on pharmaceuticals and more invested in holistic wellness.