The Legalization of Marijuana: How Far it Has Come and How it Could Affect Marist


States with medial and decriminalized marijuana in the United States

Following the 2012 decisions of Colorado and Washington to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, many states including Oregon and Alaska, as well as the District of Columbia, have made more of a move towards being slightly more lenient with regards to Marijuana.

Hitting considerably more close to home for students at Marist was the recent decision on July 5 by governor Cuomo to legalize a limited medicinal use of marijuana in New York state. This decision makes New York the 23rd state in the nation to legalize some form of medical marijuana, and although it allows for some medical uses, the law itself is very limited and does not even allow consumption of marijuana through its most commonly used way, smoking.

Marijuana legalization can be broken down into two categories of laws, medical laws and recreational laws. While medical laws allow for residents to obtain a doctors recommendation to obtain marijuana, recreational laws allow anyone over a certain age in that state to consume it as they would alcohol or tobacco. Medical laws are much more commonplace as 23 out of the 50 states have in place some form of medical marijuana laws compared to only four out of 50 states having recreational laws in place.

Marijuana prohibition began in the 1930’s and is often attributed to the 1937 passing of the Marijuana Tax Act, which essentially made marijuana illegal with the exception of authorized medical and industrial uses. Marijuana made a resurgence in the counterculture of the 1960’s and early 1970’s, with eleven states choosing to decriminalize it during the 1970’s. Marijuana possession was also decriminalized for small amounts by the federal government in 1970, proving more that marijuana was breaking through into more of the mainstream culture.

However, the 1980’s marked a turn against marijuana supporters, as in 1986, President Reagan signed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which brought back the heavy penalties for any possession of the marijuana and implemented a “three strikes and you’re out” policy. These policies perhaps reached their limit when in 1989 when President Bush openly declared a “War on Drugs” on national television.

However, in the 1990’s public perception began to change once more. Following the 1996 California decision to pass proposition 215, legalizing the medicinal use of marijuana, there has been a domino effect of sorts. 22 other states have legalized some form of medical marijuana as well as the federal government deciding to focus less of its efforts on persecuting legal medical marijuana patients and dispensaries.

In 2010, California, seemingly always the trailblazer in the efforts to legalize marijuana proposed the first ballot to entirely legalize marijuana. Although it came up slightly short, this paved the way for other states to put up ballot initiatives of their own, and in 2012, both Colorado and Washington became the first states with legalized recreational marijuana.

Even more recently and perhaps the strongest federal sign of approval towards marijuana has been the federal government’s allowance for national banks to provide financial services to legal sellers of marijuana. This allowance will help to grow an industry that at one point was simply trapped in the bind of dealing only in cash. The growing industry will be supported by bank loans and other advantages that other commercial businesses have had that the marijuana industry has lacked.

In an effort to see how Marist would potentially react to the full recreational legalization of marijuana at either the state or federal level, we can look at similar other schools in states with legalized recreational marijuana. Most schools, such as the University of Washington, University of Colorado at Boulder, and Denver University all have on campus policies in place that, although the state law allows the recreational use of marijuana, strictly comply to the federal laws.

University of Washington senior AnnMarie Henriksson says that for the most part, even though it has been legalized in the state in which she attends school, the school has sent many emails saying that it plans to continue to enforce its own policies about marijuana use and possession on campus. “My work [on campus] sent emails,” Henriksson added, “reminding that although it is legal, people can still be drug tested because of the possible negative effects it may have on work.” Furthermore, although it is legal in the state, there is only one store near the school that sells recreational marijuana and most of the people who go there are not the typical users of the drug.

Although we can see from other schools that the state wide legalization of marijuana may not directly affect the Marist community on campus, a federal legalization of marijuana may very well affect how the school has to operate. While the buildings are all smoke free and would most likely remain that way, Associate Director of first year programs at Marist, Colin McCann, says that the school, “would probably have to follow federal law,” adding, “there might be some local laws in the area that prohibit it as well though.” Marist also is a private school which allows them to have additional restrictions that other public schools may not have.

If marijuana was legalized at the federal level, Marist may not look as different as it currently is now. McCann added, “It would take like a decade or so for the culture to really come into its own, though.” So, while the effects of full legalizations may not be seen immediately, at some point down the road, acceptance could be such that it becomes something similar to alcohol and cigarettes.

Marist senior Spenser Rose, had some more interesting views on what the effects of the legalization of recreational marijuana would be at Marist. “They would have to alter the cafeteria to accommodate for everyone being stoned, whether that means more pizza and snack foods.” Rose added, “Write ups would plummet, of all sorts, drinking, fighting, being loud, because you definitely aren’t loud when you’re stoned.”

Although the public perception of marijuana seems to be getting more lenient, there are still many people who oppose the legalization of recreational use of marijuana for a variety of reasons. One of the major concerns of legalization is being able to determine when a driver is driving impaired. There are not nearly as many readily available instantaneous tests for marijuana as well as the fact that it stays in the users systems for oftentimes upwards of a month. This makes testing if a driver is impaired considerably more difficult.

The statewide legalization of marijuana would not result in too much of a change directly on the Marist campus, however a federal legalization may very well change the way we operate here at Marist. Until that happens however, it is pure speculation, but who knows what the future holds for the legalization of marijuana.

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