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Will Marijuana Prohibition Be Over in 5 Years?

Close-Up Image of the Strain Bubba Kush
Bubba Kush photo by Taylor Kent


Will Marijuana Prohibition Be Over in 5 Years?

While there is plenty of evidence out there to suggest that Congress is nowhere near ready to consider even the most conservative proposal for reforming the marijuana laws in the United States, there was some noise in the District of Columbia last week that suggests the end of prohibition is coming within the next five years.

At the recent International Drug Reform Conference – a preaching to the choir sort of gathering in Arlington, Virginia – Rob Kampia, Executive Director of the Marijuana Policy Project, predicted that pot prohibition would be eliminated by way of congressional action by 2020. The leader of the national advocacy group suggested that with a number of ballot measures likely to get a voice in the November 2016 election, there will soon be no way for Congress to avoid, at a minimum, opening up a serious debate for legalization.

“If you look at what’s about to happen,” Kampia said, “Vermont is most likely to legalize through the legislature, and Rhode Island has a good shot, but those are the only two states in play.

“It could be that four or five initiative states legalize it, and then all of this is facing Congress in 2017,” Kampia added. “Then there will be a vigorous debate on legalization, and then, I predict, Congress could pass the states’ rights bill in 2019.”

If that happens, it would almost have to get underway through a proposal similar to one introduced earlier this year by Representative Dana Rohrabacher entitled the “Respect State Marijuana Laws Act of 2015.” Under this simple bill, which begs to allow states to legalize marijuana for medicinal and recreational purposes without federal interference, the Controlled Substances Act would be amended in a way that would prevent the DEA from shaking down businesses and individuals as long as the “production, possession, distribution, dispensation, administration, or delivery of marijuana” falls directly in line with state law. Unlike with amendments attached to federal spending bills, which have done little over the past year to stop the federal government from nailing the medical marijuana community to the wall, this piece of legislation would put a much needed leash on the government’s over zealous drug warriors.

Although there have been some concerns that the government’s most probable move is to legalize the leaf strictly for medicinal purposes by passing a bill similar to the highly publicized CARERS Act, which would allow the herb to remain criminalized for those without a prescription, Kampia suggested that Congress may be more likely to go the route of full legalization so that the nation can capitalize on the product as it does with alcohol.

“All the attention will be on legalization,” Kampia said, “and there’s not a lot of tax revenue for the federal government with just medical marijuana, but if you’re talking about the whole ball of wax, with substantial tax revenues, Congress might be inclined to go for the whole enchilada.”

But, the question remains, will the outcome of the next presidential election have any influence on the progress the U.S. makes in regards to nationwide pot reform?

Certainly, an argument could be made that if a Democrat wins the keys to the White House in 2016, the issue of legalization may stand more of a fighting chance than if a Republican takes office.

Yet, as Jacob Sullum, senior editor for Reason Magazine, recently pointed out in a video segment entitled “Recreational Pot Will Be Legal Just About Everywhere Soon,” the outcome of nationwide legalization is probably not contingent on whether a Democrat reigns victorious over a Republican.

Sullum suggests that the focus on state’s rights in regards to marijuana laws has already set legalization in motion.

“When they repealed alcohol prohibition, it was left up to the states what to do with alcohol,” Sullum said. “And so you have most of the Republican presidential candidates saying the federal government should not interfere if the states want to legalize. That’s really an amazing development.”

Sullum, like many other drug policy experts, believes the best bet for forging a path to nationwide reform lies in the ability of California to successfully pass an initiative in 2016 – a major event that he expects will come to pass.

“It’s kind of surprising that California has not legalized marijuana by now,” Sullum said.

So, while the thought of marijuana being legalized at the federal level within five years may sound a bit absurd, there certainly seems to be some faith among longtime drug reformers that this historical event is coming sooner rather than later. Of course, the bulk of this anticipation is based on the success of states like California, Arizona and Maine in 2016. Any failure certainly has the potential to set the movement back even further.

What do you think? Will cannabis prohibition end in the next five years? Tell us in the comments below. 



  1. daniel becken

    December 16, 2015 at 2:31 am

    yep young people have to vote more…when all young people would go to voting….we would got it maybe way earlier…but the eco-and tax-money will change the minds of conservatives at most at the end…
    after they got they fockin stats about that , that youth at all NOT went to
    ‘do nothin at all, all day long potheads’ after legalization…they are so smart that but in thc politics they are so- not so smart at all…

  2. BillG

    December 1, 2015 at 11:07 am

    It won’t be over in five years in most places, but we will have legalization in more states and more countries within that period. Will the feds legalize within five years? It’s possible, but I wouldn’t bet money on it. We’ll have a new president in 2017. More states will likely legalize at the November election in 2016. We’ll have some change up in the federal lawmaking bodies. What happens in the 2016 elections will matter a lot. Will Republicans take the White House and will more harcore conservative types win seats in our federal law making bodies? If that happens, legalization within five years is highly unlikely. If the opposite happens we might possibly see it happen. So much can change in five years, but a lot would need to change before our federal lawmakers would take that leap. I don’t think our lawmakers are ready to do it yet, so if it happens it would likely be toward the end of the decade, so what happens at the mid term elections in 2018 will matter a lot too.

    One thing is fairly certain, and that is that support for legalization will continue to grow. The majority of Americans are for it now and the trend is for support to grow and that trend isn’t likely to change. A recent Gallup poll from October of this year showed 58% of Americans support legalization. Support was of course much higher among younger Americans and seniors opposed it, but there was even 58% support among those 50 through 64 were for legalization. Support among seniors was only at 35%, but that is higher than in years past. Each day around 10,000 Baby Boomers turn 65, several million a year, and over a million and a half born before the Baby Boom die off each year. Support is now growing in the senior ranks faster than in any other. Seniors vote, they show up at the polls even at midterm elections. The poll showed 71% support for legalization among Americans 18 through 34, but voter turnout among people in this age group is abysmal, especially at mid term elections. We need to see more young people voting not just in 2016, but in 2018 as well. Politicians don’t take youth seriously like they do seniors because the senior vote can make or break them but youth are unreliable voters. That needs to change to change these laws quickly, or we will just have to wait for the old folks who oppose legalization to die off while being replaced by those much more likely to support it. Sometime around 2018 Baby Boomers will be the majority in the senior citizen ranks, and by the end of 2029 all Boomers will be seniors and a strong majority of seniors will support legalization if it hasn’t already happened. Hopefully we don’t have to wait that long. Support among seniors will climb into the forties within a few short years and maybe that will be enough for the politicians who already have to be seeing the writing on the wall.

    If you want legalization, vote. Vote even in elections where marijuana is not on the ballot. Vote whenever the polls open. Show up like the silver haired people if you want respect from politicians like they have as voters, if you want politicians to fear young people like they fear seniors as voters. If they see voter turnout increasing among young people, they will want to capitalize on that and they will want to be careful not to do things that will upset young people. That’s the only way we will speed up the process.

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