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Evolution of a Public Policy White Paper: Analysis of Medical Marijuana and Marijuana Legalization

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Public policy is the means by which government bodies transform their political vision into action to deliver results. Moreover, public policymaking can be described as a vigorous, complex, and iterative system through which public issues are identified and resolved (Fisher & Miller, 2017). Once a resolution is identified, a slow-evolving idea begins working towards acceptability; upon acceptance, a policy is formed. When analyzing an implemented public policy there are numerous theoretical lens’ through which one may use to understand and or explain how the policy came into being. Typically, the specific theoretical lens used to view a particular policy is dependent upon the policy under review. The article under examination “Medical Marijuana and Marijuana Legalization” authored by Pacula and Smart (2017) explored past and present marijuana policies in the United States.

Article and Selected Public Policy Background

In short, the referenced article examined marijuana policies in America; for the last five decades, the United States has experimented with marijuana liberalization strategies (Pacula & Smart, 2017). Though U.S. federal laws have banned the use and dissemination of marijuana since 1937, state decriminalization policies were passed in the 70’s and patient medical access laws were adopted in the early 90’s (Pacula & Smart, 2017). By 2016, a total of 21 states decriminalized several marijuana possession infractions, 26 states legalized marijuana use, and another 16 states adopted cannabidiol (CBD) only laws (Pacula & Smart, 2017). Overall, Pacula and Smart (2017) state the following three factors have propelled the policy changes discussed above:

  • Rising state budgetary cost related to arresting and imprisoning non-violent drug offenders
  • Increased scientific evidence suggesting therapeutic benefits of cannabinoids found in marijuana
  • Stressed state budgets requiring legislatures to explore new sources of tax revenues

Needless to say, there are arguments for and against existing marijuana policies; there are research studies in support of both ends of the spectrum. Since there is variance amongst the states in terms of their legal definition and implementation of four specific marijuana policies (prohibition, decriminalization, medical marijuana, and legalization), findings, as it relates to which policy provides the most significant outcome(s), is inconclusive; further research is necessary.

Use of Theory to Analyze the Evolution of a Public Policy

Policy analysis can be divided into two components (Sheldon, 2016):

  • Analysis of an existing policy – accesses the degree to which policy is meeting its goals
  • Analysis of a new policy – examines policy formulation and looks to suggests ways to improve

Reliable policy analysis requires the use of a logical framework grounded in theory; the framework assists analyst in interpreting the key variables relevant to the policy issues of interest (Sheldon, 2016). Moreover, Sheldon (2016) states the following steps are used when performing policy analysis:

  • Verify the problem identified by the policy
  • Determine policy aims
  • Access policy implications
  • Evaluate alternative policies that may resolve problem more effectively

Illustrating these steps using the first identified factor that contributed to the implementation of marijuana policies in various states (increased budgetary cost related to arresting and imprisoning non-violent drug offenders); the problem is apparent. Countless states suffer financially as a result of over populated prisons. The primary aim of the legalization policy for example, is to end the need for illegal activity to obtain marijuana. With respect to alternative policies, a few states have attempted to utilize the decriminalization policy as a means to mitigate this issue; however, the policy has not rendered satisfactory results. Through the process of analysis shown above, grounded in a logical framework, a public policy will either continue through the iterative process of improvement or advance towards implementation.

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Evolution of Selected Public Policy

Each marijuana policy mentioned above impacts society in a different way. Specifically, prohibition laws sustain the criminal status of any action related to marijuana (use, cultivation, sale, or distribution); decriminalization policies seek to remove criminal status of marijuana offenses (Pacula & Smart, 2017). On the other hand, medical marijuana laws (MMLs) eradicate state consequences for the use of marijuana for therapeutic purposes under certain conditions, and legalization eliminates criminal and financial penalties for the custody, use, and supply of marijuana for recreational purposes (Pacula & Smart, 2017). These policy descriptions emphasize the different means through which the policies may sway use, modify perceptions of risks or social disapproval, and affect product accessibility and variation (Pacula & Smart, 2017).

Generally speaking, the four specific marijuana policies mentioned have evolved through state legislatures at varying speeds, though the federal government retains its prohibition of all marijuana activities. Specifically focusing on the legalization policy, Colorado and Washington became the first two states to legalize the recreational use of cannabis through approved legislation (Colorado Amendment 64 and Washington Initiative 502) in 2012 (Pacula & Smart, 2017). Shortly thereafter, the Justice Department issued the Cole Memorandum. According to (Mort, 2019) the memo identified situations that would result in federal enforcement should states be found guilty of the following:

  • Distribution of marijuana to a minor
  • Transference of marijuana across state borders

The memo was later retracted, establishing uncertainty in how the federal government would intervene; nevertheless, more and more states began to legalize different components e.g., recreational use, and commercial sale (Mort, 2019). As shown, legalization efforts began almost a decade ago; the policy has been modified several times and still continues to evolve within each respective state.

Evaluation of Theoretical Lens Used to Explain the Public Policy’s Evolution

Sound policy analysis requires the use of an analytical framework grounded in one or more theories. As it relates to the referenced study, the authors/research scholars likely used the Narrative Policy Framework (NPF) while assessing the legalization policy. Use of this framework was due in part to the narrative change as it relates to marijuana. There was a time when marijuana was viewed as any other narcotic and said to have extreme negative effects on the mental capacity of individuals who participated in its use. However, over the years the discussion has changed; there are countless research studies that promote the use of marijuana, suggesting benefits like chronic pain relief, weight loss, regulate/prevent diabetes etc. Due to the change in narrative, society’s perception as it relates to marijuana use has transformed; according to Weible (2017) the narrative behind the policy determines its success.

Examination of Public Policy Using an Alternative Theoretical Lens

To reiterate, public policies are the government’s response to problems that advance to the public agenda. Many of these issues are complex in nature; a variety of different lenses could be used to examine a specific policy. In fact, multiple lenses could be used to explore one public policy in parallel. For instance, viewing the legalization policy through the public choice theory, one’s understanding and perspective would likely change. The public choice theory explicitly analyzes public policies exclusively through the use of economic principles (Stewart-Knox et al., 2016). As noted, many of marijuana policies grew in popularity primarily because state legislatures viewed marijuana legalization as a means to mitigate state budgetary problems. Robinson (2019) identified the following financial benefits as it relates to marijuana legalization:

  • State tax revenues
  • Elimination of costly enforcement of marijuana laws
  • Boost in U.S, economy
  • Job creation

This viewpoint provides an overview of the benefits of marijuana legalization merely from a financial perspective.


In general, a theoretical framework limits the scope of data and compels policy analyst to observe a policy through a specific viewpoint by focusing on explicit variables (Weible, 2017). As noted, the authors of the above-mentioned study utilized the narrative policy framework to evaluate the legalization policy. Viewing the policy from the perspective of NPF, its distinctly clear how the referenced policy progressed through the political system. In fact, it’s likely that all the marijuana policies mentioned above will continue to evolve as more research is conducted.


  1. Birkland, T. A. (2015). An introduction to the policy process: Theories, concepts, and models of public policy making. Retrieved from
  2. Fischer, F., & Miller, G. J. (Eds.). (2017). Handbook of public policy analysis: theory, politics, and methods. Routledge.
  3. M., W. C. (2017). Theories of the policy process. Retrieved from
  4. Mort, G. A. (2019). Drug Testing, Workplace Policies and State Cannabis Statues in the Age of Legalized Marijuana: What Arbitrators Need to Know. Dispute Resolution Journal, 74(1), 71-83.
  5. Pacula, R. L., & Smart, R. (2017). Medical marijuana and marijuana legalization. Annual review of clinical psychology, 13, 397-419.
  6. Robison, A. L. (2019). The Economic Effects of National Marijuana Legalization.
  7. Sheldon, M. R. (2016). Policy-Making Theory as an Analytical Framework in Policy Analysis: Implications for Research Design and Professional Advocacy. Physical therapy, 96(1), 101-110.
  8. Stewart-Knox, B. J., Markovina, J., Rankin, A., Bunting, B. P., Kuznesof, S., Fischer, A. R. H., & Gibney, M. (2016). Making personalised nutrition the easy choice: creating policies to break down the barriers and reap the benefits. Food Policy, 63, 134-144.

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Evolution of a Public Policy White Paper: Analysis of Medical Marijuana and Marijuana Legalization. (2022, December 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 29, 2023, from
“Evolution of a Public Policy White Paper: Analysis of Medical Marijuana and Marijuana Legalization.” Edubirdie, 27 Dec. 2022,
Evolution of a Public Policy White Paper: Analysis of Medical Marijuana and Marijuana Legalization. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 29 May 2023].
Evolution of a Public Policy White Paper: Analysis of Medical Marijuana and Marijuana Legalization [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Dec 27 [cited 2023 May 29]. Available from:
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