The pace of marijuana reform continues to accelerate, with more states approving medical programs and adult-use initiatives with every election cycle. Even at the federal level, momentum towards progressive drug policy has increased, and the War on Drugs is more unpopular than ever. What does this evolution mean for other criminalized substances? Could cannabis pave the way for the end of drug prohibition, or will the new administration stymy efforts to broaden the scope of legalization?
The cannabis movement sparked the hope that we can take a more sensible and compassionate approach to regulating substances, rather than relying on an entrenched “drug war” mentality that stigmatizes drug users. We’re now engaging in conversations surrounding drug policy in our communities and in the halls of Congress previously unimaginable to cannabis advocates; questioning the efficacy of our current drug laws, calling out the institutional racism that drove the drug war, and pushing public support away from a system of mass incarceration and toward one that prioritizes public health.
Marijuana reform has also provided drug decriminalization advocates with a blueprint for action. The earliest cannabis activists were successful because they reframed the dialogue, focusing on the medicinal, rather than recreational, aspects of the plant. At that time, many were unconvinced of cannabis’ healing powers; now, the numerous potential medical benefits are more readily accepted. The progress we’ve seen in the past 20 years began with a commitment to bringing safe medicine to people who needed it most, and, unsurprisingly, that passion translated into the path towards legalization.