As the new year dawned, Illinois became the 11th state to legalize recreational marijuana. Following enactment, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker pardoned more than 11,000 state residents previously convicted of low-level marijuana offenses.
2020 saw the Prairie State joining Alaska, California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and the District of Columbia to legalize recreational marijuana.
Additionally, 26 states and Washington DC have decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana, dealing with these infractions at the local and civil level instead of making it a state crime. Thirty-three states legalized pot for medical purposes.
More states are likely to enact similar laws in 2020 to decriminalize or legalize marijunana. Even decriminationalziation of possession of small amounts will have a significant impact: FBI data from 2018 reveals that nationally arrests for marijuana-related offenses made up approximately 40% of the total drug arrests (663,000 out of 1.65 million arrests), but 92% of these marijuana related arrestes were limited to possession charges. Perhaps even more telling, arrests numbers vary greatly be region. In the West, where California, Colorado, Nevada, Washington and Oregan have legal recreational marijuana, marijuana-related arrest made up only 15% of 2018’s drug-related arrests. In other regions, the percentage is closer to 50%.
The data also shows that all together marijuana related arrests are at their lowest number in 20 years. By comparison to the numbers for 2018, in 2010 marijuana related arrests made up 52% of drug-related arrests nationwide.
With legalization has also come a growth in public support with Pew Research revealing two-thirds approving of legalization, up from 52 percent five years ago. Thirty-two percent preferred medical use only while eight percent wanted the drug to be illegal.
All of this state-by-state change remains in the shadow of federal laws that continue to criminalize the drug. While authorities have largely veered away from charging individual users with federal crimes, they still focus on large-scale growing and distribution entities, including dispensaries.