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In 2012, voters in Colorado and Washington made history by voting to pass initiatives that made the recreational use and sale of marijuana legal. These were huge victories for marijuana legalization advocates in these states and across the country, but whether or not the rest of the 48 states will follow Colorado and Washington’s lead remains to be seen.


Today, federal law still considers marijuana—both for recreational and medical use—an illegal substance. In the eyes of the federal government, the possession, sale, and distribution of marijuana remains a crime.


Marijuana has come a long way since its initial prohibition nearly a century ago, but it still has a long way to go. Let’s take a look at its journey so far:


The History of US Marijuana Laws


1905. The US Department of Agriculture publishes a pamphlet identifying marijuana as poisonous, restricting its medical use.


1937. The government passes the Marijuana Tax Act, placing a heavy tax on marijuana sale.


1970. Legislation classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug, meaning it is considered by law to have the highest potential for abuse and no recognized medical usage.


1971. The federal government launches a War on Drugs campaign dedicated to combating drug use. Since its initiation more than 40 years ago, the campaign has cost an estimated one trillion in taxpayer dollars.


1973. The state of Oregon reduces penalties for offenders caught in possession of marijuana.


1988. The Anti-Drug Abuse Act is passed, placing harsh penalties on the sale of drugs and making it so third-time offenders receive life in prison without parole.


1996. The state of California rules to make medical marijuana use legal.


2005. The Supreme Court rules that the federal government still has the power to prosecute marijuana offenders, even for residents of states that permit its medical use.


2012. Colorado and Washington become the first states to legalize the recreational use and sale of marijuana.


2013. The Justice Department announces that it will not interfere with laws legalizing marijuana in 20 states and the District of Colombia. Some refer to this decision as “the beginning of the end of marijuana prohibition.”


A Present-Day Prohibition


Many compare today’s anti-marijuana laws to prohibition law, pointing out numerous parallels. During prohibition, the federal government tried to prohibit a different substance—alcohol—resulting in its illegal sale and distribution. Advocates argue that marijuana prohibition, like alcohol prohibition, wastes billions of taxpayer dollars each year on arresting and incarcerating non-violent offenders.


marijuana tax

The Future Remains Cloudy for Marijuana


Despite society’s increasingly tolerant attitude towards marijuana, the drug is still considered illegal under federal law. The future of marijuana prohibition is not entirely certain—will federal anti-marijuana legislation prevail, or will we one day look back on the marijuana ban as we look back on alcohol prohibition today?


Whatever the future holds, it’s important to remember that even though marijuana’s recreational use and sale have been legalized in our state, there are still many ways you can land in serious trouble for marijuana use, from being found in possession on federal property to attempting to transport marijuana out of state.


If you have been charged with a marijuana crime, it’s of the utmost importance to enlist the aid of an experienced drug crimes lawyer. Attitudes towards marijuana offenders are changing, and there’s a fairly good chance you can have your charges reduced or dropped—but only with aggressive, strategic representation.


Denver Marijuana Lawyer

About the Author:

Kimberly Diego is a criminal defense attorney in Denver practicing atThe Law Office of Kimberly Diego. She obtained her undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and her law degree at the University of Colorado. She was named one of Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars of 2012” and “Top 100 Trial Lawyers in Colorado” for 2012 and 2013 by The National Trial Lawyers. Both honors are limited to a small percentage of practicing attorneys in each state.  She has also been recognized for her work in domestic violence cases.


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