Legalized Cannabis: How Long Before the Remaining States Fall?

Legalized Cannabis: How Long Before the Remaining States Fall?


Watching the various states legalize cannabis has been a lot like watching dominoes fall. It started with California and Oregon. From there, legalization spread across the country over the course of about 15-20 years. Today, there are only 12 remaining holdouts states. But for how long?

The Cannabis Business Times adds an even more intriguing aspect to the discussion. They suggest that at least six states could join the ranks of 18 others with legal recreational cannabis thanks to ballot measures heading to voters this November (2022). Those six states are Arkansas, Maryland, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and South Dakota.

It seems evident that Americans want access to legal marijuana. Either that or the polling is inaccurate. But one way or another, ballot measures are being introduced and voters are giving the green light to marijuana.

Medical Cannabis Started at All

If you are wondering how we got from where we were to where we are, here is what you need to know: it all started with medical cannabis. Since the early 1970s, marijuana and THC-derived products have been illegal under federal law. That never stopped people from using cannabis. It was as popular 50 years ago as it is today.

In the mid-1990s, marijuana advocates in California, Oregon, and other Western states began the push for marijuana legalization. They decided to take a medical approach. Their strategy was simple: appeal to the general public by pushing the medical benefits of their drug of choice. Once you get them on your side, introduce a ballot measure to force lawmakers to legalize.

The strategy worked just as intended. But advocates did not stop there. Success pushing through medical cannabis initiatives emboldened them to go after recreational use. And one by one, the states have given in.

Even Red States Have Fallen

Moral and ethical questions aside, it is fascinating to look back and see how cannabis legalization has progressed. We would expect blue states to be more receptive to legalized pot, and they generally are. But even red states have fallen.

The owners of Payson, Utah’s Pure Utah medical cannabis pharmacy say the cannabis movement came to their state with a ballot measure in 2019. Advocates spent several years educating the public before launching a successful drive to get Proposition 2 passed.

Remember that Utah is one of the most politically conservative states in the Union. And still, their residents supported Proposition 2. Meanwhile, equally conservative South Dakota also approved medical cannabis in recent years. They are now one of the six states poised to embrace recreational use this November. It is amazing to watch.

Nationwide Legalization Is Coming

If history is any indication, it’s only a matter of time before cannabis is legal nationwide. The only remaining question relates to the mechanism for making it happen. It could be that Washington maintains its stance while all 50 states enact their own legalization measures. It is also possible that Washington could move to completely decriminalize marijuana at some point down the road.

The second scenario is more likely for the simple reason that all 50 states legalizing cannabis would give a federal government that already turns a blind eye no reason to continue classifying marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance. If there is any indication that the remaining states will fall, Washington will probably decriminalize.

How long before the remaining states legalize? Nobody knows for sure, but the smart money says fewer than five years. Public sentiment in favor of legalization is strong enough that prohibitionist lawmakers will not be able to hold out much longer. After all, their jobs are in jeopardy.