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The Future of Marijuana in the United States, 91 Oregon Law Review 1301 (2013)


In November 2012, Washington and Colorado voters approved

initiatives legalizing use and possession of small quantities of

marijuana. Before that, eighteen states had legalized medical use of

marijuana with differing levels of regulation. Since then, two more

states have approved medical marijuana. Today, many people hope—

for a range of reasons—that more states and the federal government

will decriminalize and eventually legalize marijuana. However, the

pendulums of public opinion and political inclinations have swung

this way before. In the mid-1970s, the views of Americans on

marijuana were strikingly similar to those views today.

Decriminalizaion of possession and use of small amounts of

marijuana at both the state and the federal levels appeared to be

imminent and inevitable. A fierce backlash at the beginning of the

l980s, however, produced repeals of decriminalization by the states

and sharp increases in federal criminal penalties and prosecutions.

Such a change in direction can occur again. It is, however, much

clearer today than nearly a half century ago that marijuana prohibition

was a tragic mistake. No rational analysis of the costs of marijuana

prohibition can support its retention. Unless reform occurs at the

federal level, though, state-level reforms face a myriad of limitations

and uncertainties. Repeal at the federal level may be constrained by

international treaties, which permit decriminalization but may not

allow outright legalization. If so, the United States should seek to

eliminate marijuana prohibition at the international level as it replaces

prohibition with regulation in its own drug laws.

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