Multiple US states have legalized the recreational use of Marihuana. Why is US federal law still anti-marijuana? A Democratic president, Barack Obama, was in office for 8 years and could have started the reform process. Congress could also move on the matter. The US has definitely liberalized culturally so the people’s representatives could advance this agenda. So what’s the holdup?

  • Welcome to Politics Stack Exchange. Please note that questions should only ask one question at a time. Your question was asking two questions simultaneously. The first question was a legal question which isn't really on-topic here, so I removed it. If you would like to know more about the real legal safety of buying marihuana in your state, you might want to ask about it on law.stackexchange.com.
    – Philipp
    Mar 30, 2019 at 20:36

2 Answers 2


The problem is "the people's representatives". Many of them, especially those who have been in office for a long time, have nothing to gain by going against the status quo. They might also lose support from those who've bought into generations of anti-drug propaganda, and groups like law enforcement unions. So there really isn't enough legislative support, either at the state or national level.

It helps to look at how the recreational use of marijuana was legalized. IIRC it's currently legal in 10 states. Only one of them - Vermont - legalized through legislative action. The rest legalized through voter initiatives.


The medical advice is that cannabis is a biologically active substance (ie a drug) that in the short term can cause mild delirium (ie you get high), and sustained use causes mild dementia (short term memory loss). Smoking is also associated with a range of effects related to inhalation of particles.

It is the judgement of a majority of the elected representatives that these negative effects continue to be significant enough to maintain federal laws. And as the law already exists, and usage is relatively low (about 5-15% of adults use cannabis at least occasionally, compared with about 70-90% of adults using alcohol (wikipedia)), there would not be the disruption that could be caused by, for example, banning a substance that was comparably dangerous, but currently legal and much more widely used.

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    Do you have a source for your claim that the majority of elected representatives is against legalization? The fact that they haven't acted yet is 1. circular reasoning and 2. not sufficient proof, because there can be plenty of reasons why legislators do not make laws they all believe would be the right thing to do.
    – Philipp
    Mar 31, 2019 at 10:59
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    I don't think there is a single statement here that can be supported by evidence, except perhaps the part about particle inhalation. (But cannabis need not be smoked, either for recreational or medical use.) As for use being relatively low, tax receipts in those states that have legalized it would suggest otherwise.
    – jamesqf
    Mar 31, 2019 at 16:53
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    @jamesqf cannabis is a drug (sourced). It gets you high (sourced) and has some detrimental long term effects (sourced). Usage is much lower than alcohol (cited). It is currently illegal, so no new law needs to be introduced to make it illegal. If the majority of representative were in favour of legalisation, then it would be legalised. The fact it is not is not circular reasoning, it is stating the bleeding obvious.
    – James K
    Mar 31, 2019 at 17:10
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    @JamesK The part about a majority isn't true. As we've seen very recently McConnell can unilaterally block most legislation in the Senate regardless of overall support, having done so many times, and I imagine Pelosi can do much the same in the House (though I'm not familiar enough with each chamber's rules to be certain). It's been a common strategy for several decades at least to do so on all legislation that doesn't have at least majority support or greater within your own party, regardless of whether or not it has an overall majority. Apr 1, 2019 at 2:44
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    @James K: Cannibis is a plant. Various drugs (and other compounds) can be extracted from the plant. (Which is true of many plants.) Some of those are psychoactive, others are not. It does not ordinarily cause delirium - while I won't say it's impossible that some people have idiosyncratic reactions, that is NOT what happens to most people when they "get high". While it may be less commonly used than alcohol, that does not make usage relatively low - check tax reciepts for the states that have legalized it.
    – jamesqf
    Apr 1, 2019 at 4:08

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