Marijuana Legalization
August 22, 2019
Will public opinion drive further liberalization?

Proponents of legalizing marijuana have celebrated some recent legislative victories. In a 2018 referendum, Michigan voters endorsed legalization for recreational use, although North Dakotans rejected a similar measure. Voters in Missouri and Utah legalized the use of marijuana to alleviate medical conditions, and in May Illinois became the first state to fully legalize pot by legislative action. Some Democratic-dominated legislatures are considering legalizing recreational marijuana as an alternative to holding costly ballot initiatives, but Republicans are resisting, arguing that the drug has mind-altering and addictive qualities. Most Americans now approve of legalizing marijuana, according to polls. Meanwhile, President Trump signed a law legalizing production of hemp, a cousin of the marijuana plant and the source of cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive ingredient with medicinal qualities. Some marijuana legalization proponents say the growing market for products containing CBD could boost future efforts to fully legalize marijuana.

Lawmakers celebrate after the Illinois state House approved legislation legalizing the recreational use of marijuana in May. Illinois became the first state to legalize recreational pot by legislative action. (Getty Images/Chicago Tribune/Zbigniew Bzdak) Lawmakers celebrate after the Illinois state House approved legislation legalizing the recreational use of marijuana in May. Illinois became the first state to legalize recreational pot by legislative action. (Getty Images/Chicago Tribune/Zbigniew Bzdak)

Ralph A. Weisheit, distinguished professor of criminal justice at Illinois State University and author of eight books on criminal justice and drugs, was once sure that marijuana would never be legalized in his lifetime. When he started researching the issue in the 1980s, he recalls, people were restricting smoking in public places, examining every additive in their food and worrying about whether red food dyes caused attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

At the time, Weisheit says, he thought, “they’re never going to approve of recreational marijuana. Well, I was just wrong.”

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