When Will Federal Marijuana Legalization Happen?

Will the nation follow a few states?

Marijuana legalization in the United States, once unthinkable, has become a reality in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, and the District of Columbia. Beyond that, 23 states in addition to D.C. allow legal sales of the drug for medicinal purposes. Much of the success of a federal-wide measure for the legalization of marijuana would hinge on what happens in California, though, given its sheer size, influence, and history in the advancement of weed farming and regulation.

2016 Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders wants that to happen sooner rather than later. The Vermont senator has introduced legislation dubbed the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act, which would end the longtime nationwide ban on marijuana and is said to be the first Senate bills to propose legalizing weed for recreational use. If passed, it would remove the barriers for states that want to legalize the substance without interference from the federal government, but states could still choose to ban it if they wanted.

"We need major changes in our criminal justice system — including changes in drug laws," Sanders told students at Virginia's George Mason University recently. "Too many Americans have seen their lives destroyed because they have criminal records as a result of marijuana use. That's wrong. That has got to change."

Aside from getting Sanders even more popularity from young voters ahead of the primaries, the introduction of such a bill signals legitimacy for the idea of widespread marijuana legalization that hasn't been seen before. Long thought of as a substance just for deadbeats that melted brains, weed has really come into its own in the last decade or so. Whereas just 12 percent approved of legalizing it in 1969, now a majority of Americans support legal recreational marijuana use.

Naturally, just because a bill is introduced into the Senate doesn't mean it'll pass soon or at all — far from it. However, when zoomed out, the public attitude toward marijuana has shifted rather quickly. Depending on what happens on the state level in a couple key states, it might not be too long before you can legally buy weed just about anywhere in the U.S.

Cover image: Pixabay