Marijuana Centers: Will Growing Support Change the Federal Ban?

One of the biggest challenges facing businesses and residents in states in which marijuana has been legalized is the fact that marijuana remains illegal under federal law. For example, one former Microsoft executive’s plans for establishing dozens of marijuana shops in two states where recreational marijuana use is now legal have drawn the ire of other marijuana industry executives who fear that retailers who are overly aggressive in their marketing could draw the unwanted attention of the federal government.

However, indications from Washington, DC seem to suggest that the current administration of the federal government has no intention on cracking down on the decriminalization of marijuana at the state level. In August, the Obama administration announced that it would not challenge laws which legalized marijuana in Colorado and Washington as long as those states maintain strict rules and regulations involving the sale and distribution of the drug. The Justice Department memorandum on this point stressed that while marijuana remains illegal under federal law, the federal government would focus on eight areas of enforcement (including preventing distribution to minors, stopping the cultivation of marijuana on public lands, preventing distribution by cartels and gangs, and preventing distribution to states where it remains illegal) rather than targeting individual marijuana users.

The movement towards legalizing marijuana in states across the United States should come as no surprise. Public attitude has shifted towards acceptance of the drug. In October, Gallup announced that for the first time in history, a clear majority of Americans (58%) agree that marijuana should be legalized. The Gallup poll also noted that a sizeable percentage of Americans (38%) admit to having tried the drug. With such growing support for the legalization of marijuana, the question then becomes whether there will be a push to decriminalize the drug at the federal level, which could potentially lead to even more states legalizing its recreational use and create national retail opportunities for companies like the one spearheaded by the former Microsoft executive.

While it remains to be seen whether public opinion will change the way the federal government treats the drug, public sentiment should continue to increase the number of states decriminalizing the drug despite the federal ban. California, where 65% of residents support legalization, is on track to legalize the drug in 2016 under the leadership of Lt. Governor Gavin Newsome. California residents had defeated a similar legalization referendum just three years, reflecting how quickly opinions have shifted on the issue.

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