On October 17, marijuana will be legalized across Canada, thanks to a campaign promise made by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau back in 2015. Although rules and regulations will vary from province to province, recreational use of the drug will be decriminalized. Canada has opened its doors to a multibillion-dollar industry, and with a significant majority of political support, no less. If a large developed country like Canada can legalize marijuana (with some hurdles, of course) how come the United States government isn't doing more towards this end?
The answer to this question remains in the hands of the federal government, rather than the individual states. Since 1996, the legalization movement has prompted nine states and Washington D.C. to allow recreational marijuana use, with another thirty states legalizing the drug for medical use. However, under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, marijuana is still considered illegal at the federal level. What's more, the federal government classifies cannabis as a Schedule I Drug, putting it on the same legal ground as narcotics like LSD and heroin. Although the government has not enforced its ban on marijuana, it is entirely within its jurisdiction to threaten state legalization.
One of the most pertinent reasons why marijuana has not yet been legalized by the United States is due to the lack of scientific research into its effects, or the mixed results presented by such research thus far. Although a component of marijuana, Cannabidiol (CBD), is being increasingly championed by researchers for its medicinal properties and lack of psychoactive elements, the Food and Drug Administration is yet to approve any pharmaceutical drug containing CBD. And there remains conflicting evidence of marijuana's medical benefits. Recent findings suggest that young people with developing brains who continually use marijuana are more likely to suffer from memory loss.
Another issue threatening federal legalization is the impending uncertainty of driving under the influence laws. There exist almost no laws concerning the implications of driving while high. This is because enforcing these laws would be difficult -- THC, the psychoactive element of cannabis, can remain in one's system for days or weeks, making it hard to assess if a driver is actually "under the influence" at any given time. In Canada, new legislation dictates that anyone found driving while high will face a 1,00 dollar fine, and penalties could include a prison sentence depending on severity. However, many hindrances remain on the physical testing of drivers, including the fact that police training for doing so is lacking.
Perhaps the biggest reason why marijuana has not been legalized in America versus other developed countries stems from this country's own complicated history with the drug. Unbeknownst to most young Americans today, several states had decriminalized the possession of an ounce of marijuana during the 1970s, which led to an unregulated boom in drug paraphernalia sales at the time. Most businesses selling such products made money by targeting teens and adolescents, and soon enough, parents caught on with the trend. As parent activist groups grew in size and drew support from the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), cannabis was once more shunned by the public until new laws came about in the 1990s. Though marijuana's reputation has recovered since then, the idea that a drug industry could so easily market towards America's children has brought up a moral conflict for politicians responsible for voting on whether to legalize the drug.
Despite these challenges to legalizing marijuana, mounting public support for doing so, combined with the example Canada has just set, could provide a new basis for legalization in the near future. For now, smokers will have to rely on the laws in their home states.