Though public opinion has increasingly favored decriminalization of marijuana use in the last two decades, the process has been complicated by the public’s differing opinions on how marijuana should be decriminalized and for what reasons. While on a national level, marijuana distribution for any use is illegal under the Controlled Substances Act, 36 U.S. states have passed measures allowing for medicinal use, while 18 states have permitted recreational use as of June 22. A 2018 poll found that 56% of adults surveyed favored the state regulation of marijuana over federal regulation, highlighting that some wish for states to be given autonomy over decisions regarding decriminalization.
However, every state that decriminalizes marijuana for any reason sustains an “uneasy relationship” with the federal government. The federal government is unable and partly unwilling to enforce marijuana criminalization in all 36 states in which it is legal, but businesses wishing to sell marijuana encounter problems with federal tax laws, banking, and the threat of arrest if the federal government decides to crackdown. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas recently criticized the federal government’s approach to marijuana, saying it “simultaneously tolerates and forbids local use of marijuana” after a Colorado business appealed a ruling prohibiting the business from deducting business expenses from its federal taxes.
With public opinion in support of decriminalization, the complexity of the federal government’s relationship with marijuana may be too difficult to preserve. On June 14, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer introduced the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act that would legalize marijuana nationally, but passage faces challenges in both parties along with President Biden more supportive of decriminalization than legalization.
Public opinion research increasingly finds support for legalization in some form, with a 2021 Pew Research Center survey finding that 90% of Americans believe marijuana should be legalized for medical use, and 60% favored legalization