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Two friends smoking joint with weed at seashore at sunset

Why is Weed Still Illegal in 2021?

The lingering illegality of cannabis in the United States stems from a complex web of historical, social, political, and economic factors. Let’s take a glance at some of the most prominent reasons to help answer, why is weed illegal in many states in 2021?

Gateway Drug Theory

The gateway drug theory stems from the notion that when a person consumes one psychoactive substance, they’ll be more likely to move on to other potentially more dangerous substances. Anti-drug advocate Dr. Robert DuPont, who served as the Second White House Drug Czar under President Gerald Ford, first introduced the term in the 1980s.

Critics point out that the theory ignores the fact that other more socially-accepted addictive substances such as tobacco, alcohol, and prescription drugseven sugar and caffeineare also gateway drugs.


Cannabis access to children serves as both a reason for and against legalization. Throughout the globe, parents of children with life-threatening disorders such as cancer, epilepsy, and multiple sclerosis have fought for their child’s access to cannabis products that improved their quality of life.

On the other hand, some citizens believe that legalizing cannabis will encourage children and teens to smoke weed. However, several studies have concluded that underage cannabis use has not increased in legalized states.


How does a mental illness help answer why is weed illegal? The argument that cannabis “causes” schizophrenia has become more prominent in recent years and contributes to why weed is still illegal. While researchers remain divided over the subject, most experts agree that there are many possible triggers for schizophrenia, and cannabis use is typically just one of a constellation of factors leading a genetically-prone individual to experience a psychotic episode.

Legalization advocates assert that continued prohibition promotes an atmosphere of ignorance and allows the cannabis market to remain unregulated, contributing to the problem. Another valid argument is that people with health conditions that would benefit from cannabis should not be forced into the black market because a small percentage of the population may be at risk of developing schizophrenia after excessive cannabis use.

Racism and Cannabis Prohibition

The idea of using cannabis to suppress undesirable groups of people wasn’t new to the United States. In the Middle Ages, the Catholic church demonized cannabis to turn the populace against the pot-smoking Moors from Africa. During the Mexican Revolution, conservatives of mostly Spanish blood used religion and cannabis to suppress the liberals, many of whom were indigenous.

When alcohol prohibition ended in 1933, the Bureau of Prohibition leader, Harry J. Anslinger, found himself out of a job.

Luckily for Anslinger, several prominent industrialists wanted to remove hemp from the competition and paved the way for Anslinger to spearhead the foundation of the nation’s first Federal Bureau of Narcotics.

Anslinger was the perfect leader for a propaganda campaign that played on the public’s racist leanings. The campaign, including a now-legendary 1936 film “Reefer Madness,” asserted that consuming marijuana caused insanity, provoked violence, and encouraged white woman to have sex with black men. Anslinger also alleges that marijuana consumption gives Black men the power of a white man. Although, the language he used we will not repeat here.

Anslinger fought for the passage of the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, which effectively made cannabis illegal and took hemp products off of the market, paving the way for his financial backers from the petrochemical, pharmaceutical, and paper industries.

Industry Pressure

Corporate pressure has shaped cannabis policy since the beginning of prohibition. The Marijuana Tax Act was passed shortly after the invention of a machine that would make processing hemp much more efficient. The invention got in the way of the plans of petrochemical companies like DuPont, who had hoped to replace traditional hemp rope and textiles with petroleum-based versions.

The new invention also caught the ire of newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst, a staunch prohibitionist who had just invested a fortune in timber for paper-making. Hearst’s sensationalist newspaper articles played a vital role in exposing the public to Anslinger’s anti-cannabis propaganda.

Industry pressure remains among the reasons we have to ask, why is weed illegal? Lobbyists from industries such as pharmaceuticals, tobacco, alcohol, cotton, and many others influence federal cannabis policy.

Perhaps the most insidious industry influencing U.S. drug law is the country’s vast network of private prisonswhich have acted as a means to extend slavery. To this day, African Americans and other people of color are nearly four times more likely to be incarcerated for cannabis convictions even though whites consume cannabis at equal rates. Fortunately, activists are working toward racial equity in legalized cannabis industries.

Why Is Weed Illegal?

If you’re still wondering why is weed illegal and would like to know more, pick up a copy of hemp activist Jack Herer’s The Emperor Wears No Clothes and check in with prominent cannabis activist groups such as the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).

Updated August 5, 2021
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