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American opinions have changed when it comes to marijuana, federal laws should too

An estimated two out of three U.S. adults —  including majorities of self-identified Democrats, Independents, and Republicans — believe that the adult use of marijuana should be legally regulated.

That’s according to nationwide polling data published this week by Gallup.

{mosads}The percentage is the highest level of support ever reported by Gallup, which has polled the question since 1969. It also marks the first time that a majority of Republican voters have expressed support for legalizing marijuana.


American views on cannabis legalization are evolving rapidly.

In 1996, when California became the first U.S. state to enact legislation regulating the medical use of marijuana, only 25 percent of adults nationally endorsed the plant’s legalization. In 2012, when Colorado and Washington became the first two states to regulate the adult use and sale of marijuana, only 48 percent of Americans backed legalization. Today, 64 percent of adults say that marijuana should be legal for all adults, while a whopping 94 percent of voters endorse legalizing the plant as medicine.

Moreover, regardless of how they personally feel about cannabis, most Americans want the federal to butt out. By a margin of more than six to one, Americans say that individual states should be autonomous with regard to laws governing the use and sale of marijuana, according to polling data compiled in June by Survey USA.

Seventy-six percent of respondents — including super majorities of Republicans (72 percent), Independents (78 percent), and Democrats (80 percent) believe that states should “be able to enact their own marijuana laws without interference from the federal government.”

But far too many members of Congress have yet to get the message. While the majority of Americans support legalizing the use and sale of cannabis for adults, fewer than five percent of Congressional members voice support for this position, according to data compiled last year in NORML’s Congressional Scorecard.

Congressional support for medical marijuana also remains well below that of the public – particularly among Republicans. Under federal law, the cannabis plant remains categorized in the same classification as heroin and is regulated more stringently than either cocaine or methamphetamine.

Although several bipartisan bills are pending to address this logical fallacy, it remains unlikely that Republican leadership in either the House or the Senate will permit any of these measures to receive either a hearing or a committee vote. In September, Rep. Peter Sessions (R-Texas) refused to permit a House floor vote on the reauthorization of a three-year-old budget amendment that protects patients and providers in the 30 states that statutorily regulate medical cannabis use. And United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions — an Alabama Republican who publicly opined, “Good people don’t smoke marijuana” — is aggressively lobbying for an administrative-led crackdown in those states that permit either medical marijuana or adult use sales.

Rather than continue down this failed path, members of Congress should learn a lesson from their constituents and re-evaluate their longstanding canna-bigotry. A pragmatic regulatory framework that allows for the licensed commercial production and retail sale of marijuana to adults, but that also restricts and discourages its use among young people best reduces the risks associated with the plant’s use or abuse. By contrast, advocating for the marijuana’s continued criminalization does nothing to offset the plant’s potential risks to the individual user and to society; it only compounds them.

At a time of record public support for legalization and when the majority of states regulate marijuana use, it makes no sense from a political, fiscal, or cultural perspective to try to put this genie back in the bottle. It is time that President Trump, Sessions and others in the administration and in Congress 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? “The Citizen’s Guide to State-By-State Marijuana Laws.

Tags Cannabis laws Jeff Sessions legalization Marijuana weed

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