The legality of cannabis varies from country to country. Possession of cannabis is illegal in most countries and has been since the beginning of widespread cannabis prohibition in the late 1930s. However, many countries have decriminalized the possession of small quantities of cannabis, particularly in North America, South America and Europe. Furthermore, possession is legal or effectively legal in the Netherlands, North Korea and in the U.S. states of Colorado (Colorado Amendment 64) and Washington (Washington Initiative 502) as the federal government has indicated that it will not attempt to block enactment of legalization in those states.
The medicinal use of cannabis is legal in a number of countries, including Canada, the Czech Republic and Israel. While federal law in the United States bans all sale and possession of cannabis, enforcement varies widely at the state level and some states have established medicinal marijuana programs that contradict federal law—Colorado and Washington have repealed their laws prohibiting the recreational use of cannabis, and have instated a regulatory regime that is contrary to federal statutes.
The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) is the largest organization working solely on marijuana policy reform in the United States in terms of its budget, number of members, and staff. Its stated aims are to: (1) increase public support for non-punitive, non-coercive marijuana policies; (2) identify and activate supporters of non-punitive, non-coercive marijuana policies; (3) change state laws to reduce or eliminate penalties for the medical and non-medical use of marijuana; and (4) gain influence in Congress. MPP advocates taxing and regulating the possession and sale of marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol, envisions a nation where marijuana education is honest and realistic, and believes treatment for problem marijuana users should be non-coercive and geared toward reducing harm.
Attempts to decriminalize cannabis (marijuana) in the United States began in the 1970s. As views on cannabis have liberalized (peaking in 1978), almost half the states have either approved it for medical use, decriminalized it for recreational use, or completely legalized it.
Proponents of decriminalization argue that legalizing cannabis would free billions of dollars now used to prosecute users, provide several billions in tax revenue, free a substantial amount of law-enforcement resources which could be used to prevent more serious crimes, free a substantial amount of prison resources, and reduce the income of street gangs and organized crime who grow, import, process, and sell cannabis. Opponents argue that cannabis on the street today has a much higher percent of THC with a stronger drug effect and that decriminalization will lead to usage, increased crime, and abuse of more dangerous illicit drugs.
The use, sale and possession of cannabis (marijuana) in the United States is illegal under federal law. However, some states have created exemptions for medical cannabis use, as well as decriminalized non-medical cannabis use. In two states, Colorado and Washington, the sale and possession of marijuana is legal for both medical and non-medical use. This law however is up in the air for the time being as the states have one year to write laws on distribution and regulation of marijuana.]clarification needed[. Multiple efforts to reschedule cannabis under the Act have failed, and the United States Supreme Court has ruled in United States v. Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative and Gonzales v. Raich that the federal government has a right to regulate and criminalize cannabis. Also, if the cannabis is called "medical cannabis" the federal law still has priority.
In July 2009, Gil Kerlikowske, Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, further clarified the federal government's position when he stated that "marijuana is dangerous and has no medicinal benefit" and that "legalization is not in the president's vocabulary, and it's not in mine." However, a January 2010 settlement between the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana (WAMM) provides an example confirming the administration policy as communicated by Attorney General Holder, as WAMM reached an agreement to re-open after being shut down by the federal government in 2002.
The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML //) is an American non-profit organization based in Washington, DC whose aim is to move public opinion sufficiently to achieve the legalization of non-medical marijuana in the United States so that the responsible use of cannabis by adults is no longer subject to penalty. According to their website, NORML "supports the removal of all criminal penalties for the private possession and responsible use of marijuana by adults, including the cultivation for personal use, and the casual nonprofit transfers of small amounts," and "supports the development of a legally controlled market for cannabis." NORML and the NORML Foundation support both those fighting prosecution under marijuana laws and those working to legalize marijuana. Similar affiliated organizations operate under the NORML banner in other countries, among them NORML New Zealand, NORML Ireland and NORML UK.
In the 2006 United States midterm elections, NORML promoted several successful local initiatives that declared marijuana enforcement to be the lowest priority for local law enforcement. NORML claims that this frees up police resources to combat violent and serious crime.