For decades, cannabis was reviled in the court of public opinion. Now, the tides are finally turning, and fewer Americans than ever are against legalizing marijuana.
Up to 60 percent of Americans support legalizing cannabis for recreational use. Even more (71 percent) oppose the federal government’s efforts to stop the sale of marijuana in “legal” states. An overwhelming amount of those polled (88 percent) supported the legalization of cannabis for medicinal use. In other words, for the first time in decades, the American majority approves of adult cannabis use for ]medicinal and recreational purposes.
While support continues to grow, only eight states and Washington D.C. allow for legal recreational adult use. However, even though so few places have made legalization a reality, lawmakers on both the state and federal level are noticing the switch in public opinion.
Spurring elected officials to action on the state and federal level
The 2016 election saw four more states – California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts – move to legalize cannabis. While still far from a chain reaction, four states voting “yes” on the same day is a powerful and uplifting historic action. More than a dozen additional states have pending recreational cannabis bills that could become law in the near future. If even a handful vote in favor, it could mean billions of dollars for the burgeoning cannabis industry.
Some of the strongest support is in New Jersey. Phil Murphy, the Democratic nominee for governor in the Garden State, has expressed his support for recreational adult use. If Murphy wins, cannabis advocates will regard New Jersey as one of the next states to legalize recreational cannabis use. It’s smart business after all: legalization could generate hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue for a state struggling with financial woes.
Some federal legislators are taking up the mantle, although it is still an uphill congressional battle. More than 250 members of Congress have publicly supported decriminalization and/or medicinal marijuana policies, although a rare few have said they support full legalization. As of September 2016, 32 representatives and 22 senators publicly declared their support for legal cannabis. These lawmakers, including Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) and Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT), find bipartisan support for their efforts. While it’s unlikely to become a federal reality, it signals that Congress is drifting from “Just Say No.”
As fewer folks come out against legalizing marijuana, some significant changes in public policy, economy and society are on the horizon. Industries from cannabis marketing to farming could contribute billions of dollars and thousands of jobs to the economy. The next generation of police chiefs, politicians, attorneys and more are shedding the flawed ideals they learned in D.A.R.E. They understand that classifying cannabis as a Schedule I drug is ludicrous at best and absolutely devastating to entire communities at worst.
These policy proposals demonstrate that public opinion — not to mention the success of early legalization programs — has been on lawmakers’ minds. More Americans are ready for full legalization of cannabis than they ever have been. Hopefully, these upcoming gubernatorial races and ballot initiatives will fulfill the will of the American people.