The other big winner on election night: Marijuana

Millions of voters went to the polls on Election Day and chose to put an end to America’s nearly century long experiment with cannabis criminalization. In California, Massachusetts, and Nevada approved ballot measures legalizing the personal use and retail sale of marijuana by adults. (Maine’s ballot question is leading but still remains too close to call.)

In Arkansas, Florida, and North Dakota, voters endorsed the medical use and dispensing of marijuana to qualified patients.

For those keeping score, 29 states now regulate medical marijuana use and sales. And approximately 20 percent of the population lives in states that have legalized marijuana possession and use by anyone over the age of 21.

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These Election Day results should not have come as a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention. Public support for legalizing marijuana has nearly doubled over the past two decades and now stands at 60 percent, according to the latest Gallup survey. This rising support has grown as more jurisdictions have liberalized their statewide marijuana policies. Indeed, the public has been watching and learning. They know that legalizing and regulating marijuana works.

Contrary to the fears of some, these statewide policy changes have not been associated with increased marijuana use or access by adolescents or with adverse effects on traffic safety or in the workplace. Marijuana legalization is also associated with less opioid abuse and mortality. In jurisdictions where this retail market is taxed, revenue from marijuana sales has greatly exceeded initial expectations. In Colorado, tax revenue from cannabis sales totals nearly $11 million per month. In California, regulating the nation’s largest domestic marijuana market is anticipated to yield over $1.2 billion annually in new taxes.

Public support for legalization now extends well beyond just those who self-identify as marijuana consumers (approximately 10 percent of adults). In truth, Americans from all walks of life, of all ages, and all political ideologies support reforming our nation’s antiquated and overly punitive pot policies, which is yesterday’s victories were shared by both red and blue states. Voters recognize that the ongoing enforcement of marijuana prohibition financially burdens taxpayers, encroaches upon civil liberties, engenders disrespect for the law, and disproportionately impacts young people and communities of color. (In 2015, the last for which federal data is available, almost 600,000 Americans were arrested and charged with violating cannabis possession laws.)

But most elected officials still haven’t gotten the message. According to NORML’s Congressional Report Card, which provides a letter grade ‘A’ through ‘F’ to members of Congress based on their comments and voting records on matters specific to marijuana policy, just four percent of federally elected officials support regulating the adult use marijuana market. Fewer than 50 percent of Republican members of Congress received even a passing grade. NORML’s Gubernatorial Report Card yielded similar results.

Will yesterday’s Election Day results reverberate with politicians? They certainly ought to. For the third time in the past six years, the American people have spoken and spoken clearly. They do not support prosecuting and stigmatizing responsible adults who choose to consume a substance that is safer than alcohol. Further, they prefer a regulated and taxed marijuana market, run by licensed businesses, to a black market run by criminal entrepreneurs.

One thing is certain: marijuana policy reform is an issue that is not going to go away. These latest slew of statewide reforms ought to be seen as a mandate to the incoming administration and to Congress to reform federal laws in a manner that comports with public opinion as well as with marijuana’s rapidly changing legal and cultural status.

Armentano is the Deputy Director of NORML — the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and he is an advisor for Freedom Leaf. He is the co-author of the book, “Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink?” (Cheslea Green, 2013). He is the author of the book, “The Citizen’s Guide to State-By- State Marijuana Laws” (Whitman Press, 2015).


 

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