The history of cannabis legalization

Cannabis is considered as the most common drug around the world and over recent years it has been legalized in many countries. Today there is an emerging market offering different cannabis derived products like joint pain cream, bath bombs, infused food and beverages and so. But before being a hot trend and easily available to buy, cannabis was taboo and illicit. The history of cannabis legalization demonstrate that there were different reasons that motivated government in doing so.

Legality of cannabis

The legal right to possess, consume, cultivate or distribute cannabis for medical or recreational purpose varies across the countries. In case, it is used for medical purpose, there are policies that also states the specific medical conditions for which is can be consumed legally. In the majority of countries concerned, the law on cannabis is regulated by three United Nations treaties;

history of cannabis legalization
Image source: Elite Asia Resource Centre

 

  • 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs,
  • 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances
  • 1988 Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances

The global community realized that an active cooperation between different countries is a more effective way to control drug abuse.

The 1961 Single convention on Narcotic Drugs was set to control drugs originating mainly from plants for e.g coca, cannabis and opium. This convention classified Cannabis as a schedule I drug, meaning that it can be used for medical treatment though it can lead to serious addiction problem.

Cannabis legalization happened in several stages. As cannabis was classified as a seriously addictive drug, it was strictly forbidden for recreational use in many countries. However over times many of these countries have decriminalized the cannabis. This mean that if you were caught in possession of some weeds, it was considered as a minor law violation and there were not any risk of being jailed.
In contrast, in countries where it is still illegal, possession of cannabis can cost you several years of imprisonment.

The 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances was born in Vienna, and its purpose was to set a control on psychoactive drugs like amphetamine and psychedelics. As cannabis contain the psychoactive compound Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), it also formed part of the list.

Status of cannabis legalization around the world

At the time of writing this article there were countries like Uruguay, Canada, Georgia and South Africa which have already legalized cannabis for recreational use. The list also include 17 states and 2 territories in the US, and the Australian Capitol Territory in Australia.

Image courtesy: Wikipedia

history of cannabis legalization

Furthermore, among these countries, Canada and Uruguay have allowed the commercial production of cannabis countrywide. This is also the case for all the US states where the jurisdictions have legalized cannabis

There is a long list of countries like Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Jamaica, Croatia, Colombia, Germany, Ireland, Israel and Italy, which have set cannabis legalization for medical use.

Image courtesy: Wikipedia

history of cannabis legalization

In several US states, the legality of cannabis has varying degrees but the trend shows that America is gradually going toward fully legal cannabis.

Map showing legal status of Cannabis in US states. Sources DISA Global solutions

History of cannabis legalization – What motivated governments for cannabis legalization?

1. Diminish drug trafficking

The initial purpose of cannabis legalization was to use it as an effective tool for drug on wars. By making weed legal, this could help to reduce black market cannabis trading. The first country to take this bold and courageous decision was Uruguay in 2012. The Uruguayan President, José Mujica, was convinced that this law would contribute to reduce the profits of drug traffickers which is intrinsically linked to organized crime. It would furthermore influence a decline in violence and social ills.

The law allowed Uruguayans to cultivate cannabis plants for their own use only. Licenses were also granted to professional farmers so that they could make production a larger scale. The whole system would be controlled through taxation, user registration and strict quality control.

2. Tax on cannabis is a big source of revenue

The case for Uruguay demonstrated that cannabis legalization can help a government to fight against drug traffic. However, another attractive reason is that legal cannabis can bring a lot of revenue though taxation. For example in the U. S, in states where cannabis is legal, a tax rate ranging form 10% to 25% is charged on recreational cannabis products which contain THC.

The local government of these states have designed different methods of charging tax on cannabis. Hence, the tax rate can either be fixed as percentage of price, on the weight of the cannabis product or the level of THC compound present.

Since it has become legal, cannabis has become a flourishing industry weighting around $14 billion in 2019. For example in 2019 the state of Colorado has reaped tax revenue of $ 302 millions from recreational and medical cannabis, the estimated sales for this period was $ 1.7 billion. As for the Canada, it generated a tax revenue of CA$334.3 billion for 12 months ending March 2020.

Therefore, if a country opt for cannabis legalization, proper tax planning can help the government raise revenue which can be thereafter be used for the benefits of its population.

3. Cannabis legalization create job opportunities

Statistics have shown that the cannabis industry has a heavy impact on the economy. It does not only bring revenue but also create hundred of thousands jobs. In 2020, there were 243,700 persons in the US working in the legal cannabis industry and it grew up to 321,000 full time jobs in January 2021.

It would have surely been even higher if we were not hit by the global COVID pandemic. The main purpose of the government is to decrease unemployment, maintain economic stability and improve standard living of its citizens. Therefore, allowing a legal cannabis industry can help to achieve these objectives.

Final thoughts

The history of cannabis legalization have shown that there two school of thoughts for legal cannabis, on one side there are people who still have the perception that it is an abusive drug. They believe that it is solely used for recreational purpose and excess consumption can lead to a generation of junkies which moreover can cause many social harms.

On the other side, we have people who have analyzed deeply the pros and cons of cannabis legalization. These persons have admitted that it can be a potential abusive drug. However, they have also demonstrated with scientific researches that processed and refined cannabis provide several amazing end products .

For example isolated CBD compound have led to products like joint pain creams, CBD tincture and cosmetic products. They help to alleviate medical ailments like inflammatory problems, epilepsy, stress and depression. It was also proven that cannabis help to alleviate the pains of cancer patients. Furthermore, researches are still being done to find its potential effects on HIV/AID patients.

However, just like cigarette and alcohol, for a legal cannabis system to work properly the government have to set proper laws that control fundamental criteria like quality, pricing, quota, cultivation, distribution, age restriction, THC potency, proper disclosure on product labels and cross border transactions.

If proper legal parameters are set, the so called’ double-edged knife’ cannabis can be a boon to the society.