More than half of state legislatures across the nation considered legislation to legalize the possession or use of cannabis in 2019. This is a record, and signifies a cultural sea change—but it may mean a mixed bag for people who vape along the way.
Only Illinois legalized for recreational use, and just a handful of states actually passed any cannabis- related legislation so far this year. However, this rising tide of legislative attempts to decriminalize and legalize point to a more mainstream status for cannabis use—and possibly heightened scrutiny for vapers.
According to a report from The Hill, Karen O’Keefe, who directs state policy at the pro-legalization Marijuana Policy Project indicates that most state legislatures in the US are reviewing cannabis laws, and many are adopting significant reforms. In fact, 27 states considered such legislation, often for the first time.
Recreational use laws failed in Connecticut, New Mexico, and New York, but decriminalization measures passed in New Mexico and Hawaii as North Dakota ended jail time for cannabis possession. Finally, Georgia expanded its medical marijuana program.
The federal government remains a source of marijuana prohibition, but even the US House of Representatives recently convened a hearing for the first time to discuss potentially reforming federal law in this area. This is in line with public opinion, which shows support for legalization has reached an all-time high. In fact, a recent poll indicates that 62 percent of registered voters, including two-thirds of independents, agree with legalizing recreational marijuana.
Recreational cannabis use is currently legal in 11 states, most recently Illinois, and the District of Columbia. Personal possession of cannabis has been decriminalized in 26 states. And medical marijuana is now legal in 33 states.
What is at stake here is far more than partying at the lake with some edibles. Cannabis prohibition is part of the a cultural battle against state and federal overreach, and against intrusive policing practices that disproportionately impact some groups.
Marijuana prohibition, like alcohol prohibition, was part of various anti-immigrant, anti-poor, and pro- segregation campaigns during the Jim Crow era and beyond. Historians have noted the use of prohibition and the “problems” it was designed to fix as a guise for the expansion of federal power, so it is no surprise that the federal government would be slowest to change on this issue.
Now, as more and more people are objecting to police overreach, including violence, the connection between “illegal” drug enforcement and prohibition is becoming clearer. How will this affect people who vape?
Opponents to legalization may try limiting how people can use cannabis, for one thing, including by banning vaping—arguably to protect children. This is the purpose of the San Francisco ban, which is set in a legalized state.
This is an opportunity for people who vape to be strong advocates, and demand privacy and relief from government overreach. Cannabis criminalization has driven mass incarceration and suffering across our country, and we don’t have to accept it. Vaping should not be a justification for police enforcement, any more than personal use of cannabis—perhaps less so since there is no way to know what is being vaped.