As we learned in A Brief History of Cannabis Use in North America, under President Richard Nixon in 1970, marijuana was classified as a Schedule 1 drug in the newly passed Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act. It continues with that classification today.

Prior to this, however, a Nixon-appointed presidential commission had recommended marijuana use not be a criminal offense. This recommendation was made by the Shafer Commission, whose members were appointed by Nixon himself and were, for the most part, strongly opposed to marijuana.

After launching dozens of reports and polls, and taking thousands of pages of testimony, members of the commission came to a different conclusion than they had set out to find. Instead of condemning marijuana, they hinted that legalization was a more appropriate step, though Shafer himself did not support this.

The Shafer Commission’s final report concluded marijuana did not cause crime or aggression or act as what is now called a ‘gateway drug’. It also recommended the decriminalization of marijuana possession.

Nixon, whose personal views remained strongly anti-marijuana, overruled the commission’s findings and announced “all-out war” on marijuana. While President Jimmy Carter took a softer stance on pot, the Reagan administration reinforced Nixon’s hard line by ramping up the war on drugs.

Just 20 years later, in 1992, Bill Clinton became the first American president to admit to having tried (but not inhaled) marijuana. Then, in 1996, California became the first state in the nation to legalize the use of medicinal marijuana.

The march towards the acceptance of cannabis in North America has gone on into the 21st century, but what has fueled this? Why do the majority of citizens support the use of cannabis when only an estimated six per cent of individuals use it? More Americans agree on the legalization, or at least the decriminalization of cannabis, than they do on who should be the American president. Its acceptance crosses party lines and generational ones.

Of course, entire anthologies could be written on dozens of different reasons why cannabis is becoming less stigmatized. It seems to be the confluence of several factors ranging from a changing notion of the role of government, the age of the citizenry, and the financial state we have found ourselves in over the past couple of decades. Whatever the combination is, it seems to have caused a perfect storm of change that continues to sweep through the nation.

Whether or not it is reflected in the outcome of elections or in party membership rolls, North America has taken more of a libertarian approach to the way it does business. As industry and manufacturing left many parts of the United States and Canada at the end of the 20th century, the vacuum left in its wake was financially devastating to the economy.

In an effort to raise revenues, a more ‘Las Vegas’ approach was taken by many regions. Municipalities and states realized that there was money to be made by allowing people their vices legally (this was usually first led by the acceptance of casino gambling). Hardline moralists in politics could not argue that vice was good for the state’s (or province’s) bottom line. In business, sales absolve all your sins. One could argue that this helped to pave the way towards legalization of cannabis in many states.

The rise of the Internet can also be attributed to the acceptance of marijuana use. An untold number of websites sell the gambit of seed, extracts, and all manner of paraphernalia, legal or otherwise. Knowing it would be highly unlikely, or at least cost-prohibitive, to combat the panoply of online vendors, many states decided it would be better to join them if they can’t beat them; in some cases, maybe even beat them by joining them.

An additional, but by no means final, reason that marijuana usage is enjoying new or renewed acceptance is the age of the populace. Many of the hardline, anti-marijuana voters belong to the venerated Greatest Generation. These heroes were raised in a time when we were the ‘good guys,’ and it stands to reason that they believed their government when it told them that marijuana was as bad as or worse than other narcotics.

This generation is dying out. Their children, the Baby Boomers, came of age in an era where it was the norm to at least try marijuana. Boomers comprise a large proportion of our senior citizens. They tend to have a more realistic outlook on marijuana use, and they vote.

This propensity to install less hardline administrations, on average, has led to more research funding for cannabis trials. The outcomes often not only underline the Shafer Commission’s original findings that marijuana results in much less harm than Nixon believed, but that it also has medicinal values that benefit society while increasing revenue for governments.

The Current State of Cannabis Usage in the United States and Canada

All Canadian provinces currently allow for medicinal usage of cannabis, as do 26 US states and the District of Columbia. Each of these states has a range of different medical conditions for which cannabis may be used and differing procedures regarding the manner it is prescribed, where it is legal to dispense, etc. Eight states and the District of Columbia also have laws allowing for recreational cannabis use (see sidebar).

In just a few weeks, the Canadian government is expected to announce federal legalization of recreational marijuana. The federal government of the United States still classifies cannabis as a controlled substance, but in 2014, the congress passed a law that prohibits federal agents from conducting raids on growers of medicinal marijuana in states where it is legal.

The tide is certainly turning. More states are considering laws to allow for medicinal cannabis and the US federal government has indicated that the enforcement of laws related to marijuana are not the best use of the country’s time and resources. It is inevitable that more states will allow for its use in the years to come.

States allowing recreational use of Cannabis

Thanks to ballot initiatives in the 2016 federal election, eight states and the District of Columbia now allow for some level of recreational use of cannabis. Many of the restrictions are similar from state to state, but there are a few differences.

In Alaska, it is legal to possess up to one ounce of marijuana and up to six plants. In California, a person may possess up to one ounce of flower, eight grams of concentrate, and up to six plants. The transfer (not sale) of up to one ounce of marijuana is legal in Colorado, along with up to one ounce of usable product; six plants are allowable there, but only three can be mature at any given time. Maine allows for possession of up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and up to 12 plants (no more than six can be mature, though).

Maine’s pending law also allows for the state to claim a 10 per cent tax on sales of non-medical cannabis. Massachusetts allows for personal possession up to one ounce of flowers or five grams of concentrate, and up to 10 ounces of flowers in one’s home. It also allows the state to collect a 3.75 per cent tax on non-medicinal cannabis transactions.

In Nevada, it is legal to possess up to six plants, one ounce of flowers, and 3.5 grams of concentrate. Fifteen per cent is the government’s taxation rate in Nevada. Oregon allows for the possession of up to four plants and possession of up to eight ounces of product. Washington State residents can have up to one ounce of flowers, 16 ounces of solid concentrates, and 72 ounces of liquid infused products.