Support for marijuana legalization is growing ‘like a weed’

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More Americans now believe that the adult use of marijuana should be legally regulated. That is the conclusion from the latest nationwide survey on the issue, compiled by Gallup, which has been gauging Americans views on cannabis legalization since 1969.

A record 66 percent of US citizens over the age of 18 — including majorities of self-identified Republicans (53 percent), Independents (71 percent) and Democrats (75 percent) — who now say that “the use of marijuana should be made legal.”

{mosads}Predictably, support for legalization is strongest among younger adults. Among those 18 to 34 years of age 78 percent support legalizing marijuana. Older Americans also favor reform. Today, 59 percent of those over the age of 55 similarly legalization— more than three-times the level of support expressed by older Americans in the year 2000. 

There are a number of reasons why legalization has grown popular among Americans. For starters, over half of Americans have had first-hand experience with the substance, according to a 2017 Marist poll and the majority of the public now resides in a state where either the medical use or social use of cannabis is legal.

This real-world experience has permitted voters to witness the fact that marijuana legalization is preferable to criminalization. This is why Americans support for legalization has increased nearly 30 percent since 2012, when Colorado and Washington became the first two states to legalize adult marijuana use. Were legalization anything but successful, public support for this policy change would be heading in the opposite direction.

States experiences with legalization have also eroded the credibility of many of prohibition’s leading proponents — whose gloom and doom predictions have failed to come to fruition. In fact, regulated statewide marijuana markets have provided an economic boost to numerous cities and states — leading to increased tax revenuestourism and home values, among other societal benefits.

Moreover, adult use legalization in Colorado and in other states has not been associated with serious adverse public health consequences. 

For example, teen marijuana use and access has fallen significantly in recent years and opioid related hospitalizations and mortality are declining in legal states. Data also reports drops in drug treatment admissionsalcohol consumption and in prescription drug spending

According to the Colorado Department of Public Health, “For adults and adolescents, past-month marijuana use has not changed since legalization either in terms of the number of people using or the frequency of use among users. Based on the most comprehensive data available, past month marijuana use among Colorado adolescents is nearly identical to the national average.”

Traffic safety has also been largely unaffected by legalization. According to a 2018 comparative analysis by researchers at the University of Oregon, “[S]tates that legalized marijuana have not experienced significantly different rates of marijuana- or alcohol-related traffic fatalities relative to synthetic control [states.]” Specifically, in Colorado and Washington, investigators writing in “The American Journal of Public Health” report “no significant association between recreational marijuana legalization … and subsequent changes in motor vehicle crash fatality rates in the first three years after recreational marijuana legalization.” In Nevada, incidents of traffic fatalities fell over 10 percent in the first year of recreational marijuana, according to data provided by the Nevada Department of Public Safety.

At a time when a record number of Americans acknowledge that cannabis should be legal, it makes no sense from a political, fiscal, or cultural perspective to try to put this genie back in the bottle. Elected officials of both parties must look to the future rather than to the past and take appropriate actions to comport federal law with majority public opinion and the plant’s rapidly changing legal and cultural status.

Paul Armentano is the deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. He is the co-author of the book, Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink? and the author of the book, The Citizen’s Guide to State-By-State Marijuana Laws.

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