Marijuana: A Landscape of Legalization and a Look at its Effects and Uses
Written by: Ismael Barrios
Staunton, VA - The landscape of marijuana legalization has evolved significantly in recent years. According to the Marijuana Policy Project, 37 states and Washington, D.C. have implemented comprehensive medical marijuana programs, and 21 states have legalized recreational use. However, policies and regulations surrounding marijuana use differ significantly between states, and concerns remain regarding its effects on certain populations.
Marijuana contains a psychoactive compound called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which, as the National Institute on Drug Abuse explains, can disrupt normal mental and physical functions such as memory, concentration, movement, and coordination. It can also impair brain functions related to balance, posture, and reaction time. A study by Volkow et al. (2014) showed that THC stimulates neurons in the brain's reward system, releasing dopamine and contributing to marijuana's addictive potential.
While marijuana can provide short-term feelings of happiness and relaxation, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration warns against self-treating anxiety or depression with it due to the risk of tolerance and addiction. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved medical uses of marijuana for specific conditions, such as THC-based medications in pill form to treat nausea in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy or to stimulate appetite in patients with AIDS. A systematic review by Whiting et al. (2015) also highlights several marijuana-based medications in clinical trials for conditions like neuropathic pain, overactive bladder, and muscle stiffness.
The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that the movement toward marijuana legalization began in 1996 when California became the first state to legalize medical cannabis. By 2012, Washington and Colorado had legalized recreational use. A Pew Research Center survey from 2019 shows that public support for legal cannabis has grown since then, and the issue has become more prominent in legislative debates. In 2022, President Joe Biden pardoned individuals convicted of simple possession under federal law and ordered a review of marijuana's classification as a Schedule I drug, as reported by the White House. Nevertheless, some states remain resistant to legalization, such as Oklahoma, which, according to Ballotpedia, voted against legalizing recreational marijuana in 2023.
Commonalities among state legalization policies, as outlined by the Marijuana Policy Project, include age restrictions—typically requiring consumers to be 21 or older for recreational use—and limits on the amount that can be purchased or possessed. Most states prohibit public consumption of marijuana and mandate that it be consumed in private, such as in one's home. The Tax Foundation notes that licensing requirements and taxes vary for growing and selling marijuana.
In summary, although marijuana offers some positive and medicinal benefits, caution is necessary, particularly for vulnerable populations. Marijuana legalization remains a contentious issue in some states, and regulations and taxes differ significantly among states where it has been legalized. Individuals should be aware of the laws in their respective states and use marijuana responsibly.