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Legalizing Marijuana

May 9, 2021 | Trends

As that Bob Dylan song famously goes, “The Times They Are A-Changin,” which mirrors the attitudes of the American public as a whole. On Apr. 12, 2021, New Mexico became the 16th state to permit the recreational use of marijuana. In 1969, when Gallup first asked the question, just 12% favored legalizing marijuana use. Today, a record high of 68% of Americans say the drug should be made legal.

It’s another notable development in a 48-year trend that began when Oregon became the first U.S. state to decriminalize cannabis in 1973. However, it wasn’t until Nov. 5, 1996, some 23 years later, that the legalization of marijuana would receive a major boost when California legalized the use of cannabis for medical purposes:

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The following market signals confirm that marijuana is here to stay:

  • Market dimensions – State tax and revenue data analyzed by Leafly indicate that nationwide sales of medical and adult-use marijuana in 2020 increased by 71% over 2019. In total, Americans spent more than $18 billion on cannabis in 2020. While new consumers and patients, plus newly legal states played a role, most of that growth was due to a 33% increase in spending by existing customers, likely driven by pandemic stress and boosted by government stimulus money. According to, the global cannabis market will reach $90 billion by 2026.
  • Changing opinions – Former House Speaker John Boehner has joined the board of Acreage Holdings, a firm that invests in the marijuana industry. That was quite a turnaround for a politician who once famously said, “I am unalterably opposed to the legalization of marijuana.” At CNN, Dr. Sanjay Gupta admitted he had been wrong about marijuana. After examining mounting evidence that medical marijuana was benefiting users, Gupta stated, “Well, I am here to apologize.”
  • Recreational bandwagon – A sea change shift occurred in November 2012 when both Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana for personal use. Besides New Mexico, Illinois, Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, New York, and Virginia all legalized recreational marijuana in the past few years, suggesting that the status quo is rapidly changing in the U.S. Medicinal or recreational marijuana is now legal in 35 states, plus Washington, DC, Puerto Rico, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and U.S. Virgin Islands:

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  • Amsterdam, trendsetter – In 1972, Wernard Bruining opened the city’s first “coffee shop” — The Mellow Yellow. While marijuana remains technically illegal in the Netherlands, selling cannabis is “illegal but not punishable.” Only citizens, however, are allowed to buy marijuana, although Amsterdam’s famous coffeeshops are exempt from that rule.
  • Global adoption – The legalization trend started surprisingly enough in Uruguay, which became the first country in the world to legalize cannabis in 2014 for recreational use. In 2018, Canada became the second country to legalize marijuana. As of Jun. 15, 2020, a total of 47 countries have at least legalized medical marijuana. And more are on the way. Even tiny Aruba has requested proposals for the cultivation and/or processing of medicinal cannabis.

Bob Dylan was right, the times they indeed are a-changin.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user wendygail91.

Michael Tchong

Michael Tchong

Founder, Author, Adjunct Professor, Futurist

Michael Tchong is a distinguished analyst renowned for his expertise in scrutinizing and dissecting societal, cultural, and technological trends. His invaluable insights serve as a cornerstone for guiding businesses and organizations towards more informed decisions regarding their products, services, and innovation strategies.
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