WHOA: This Election Could Be A Tipping Point For Marijuana Legalization Across America, Dude

WHOA: This Election Could Be A Tipping Point For Marijuana Legalization Across America, Dude

Let me be blunt. November 8th, 2016 could be a major tipping point for the marijuana legalization debate in America. Voters in 8 states will have the power to upgrade their states’ legalization regimes.

Earlier this year, Ohio, Louisiana, Alabama and Pennsylvania joined the list of states that have legalized medical use of marijuana. Pennsylvania cited the nearly 25% lower rate of opioid overdose deaths in states with legal medical marijuana. In Louisiana and Alabama, officials cited doctors prescribing cannabidiol, or CBD oil, to treat seizures. In total, 27 states and Washington, D.C. have at least legalized the prescribed marijuana extract, CBD. More than half of those states have deregulated marijuana even further, to allow the growing and use of a restricted amount of marijuana plants for approved medical purposes. With these states opening the door to prescribed marijuana, now well over 60% of Americans live in a state where some degree of medical marijuana is legal.

In 4 states, Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington, recreational marijuana is legalized and regulated. These states are the vanguard of the legalization movement. Colorado, particularly, has been under a policy microscope since it implemented a sweeping legalization measure in January, 2014. The state has found a decline in drug-related arrests and DUIs. It has found an increase in reported heavy use of pot, which could be because people are more comfortable reporting their use now that it’s legal. The state has raked in tax revenue from legalization, far beyond initial projections, which it will put into its schools.

Related: Washington, D.C.: Don’t Bogart That Legalization, My Friend

In November, voters have the chance to dramatically expand the list of states where both medical and recreational marijuana are legal. California, Nevada, Arizona, Massachusetts and Maine will all ask voters to legalize recreational marijuana. All of these states have already legalized medical marijuana, so the bills in question would upgrade the legalization regime. California is the holy grail for the movement. If California, the largest state in the union with a population of roughly 39 million, legalizes recreational pot, and has a mostly positive experience similar to Colorado, it could begin to dominate the policy discussion. Massachusetts and Arizona are no slouches, either, each with a population of nearly 7 million and legislatures that influence their neighbors. In all, if these 5 states legalize recreational marijuana, the percentage of Americans living in states where recreational marijuana is legal would grow from 6% to roughly 25%.

Florida, Missouri and Arkansas will also vote on whether to legalize medical marijuana. Missouri and Florida are large, purple, bellwether states while Arkansas is deeply conservative. The trend would be firmly established that states across America’s geography, and across the political spectrum are moving toward greater legalization.

If voters approve the measure in all 8 states, roughly a quarter of Americans will live in states where prescribed CBD is legal, over 40% of Americans will live in a state where growing plants for medical use is legal, and a quarter of Americans will live in states where medical and recreational use are legal. In total, over 90% of Americans would live in a state where some degree of marijuana is legal.

Recreational Marijuana Legalization Is Following The Same-Sex Marriage Route

Since the first efforts at legalization began in the Northwest in the 1990s, the trend has been almost exclusively toward greater legalization. If big states on both coasts legalize recreational marijuana, others are likely to follow. This is especially true if California finds only low-level and manageable law enforcement costs along with a tax revenue cash cow like Colorado. State-level legalization could become a runaway train. It is easy to imagine that, within a few years, a landmark case like California Marijuana Dispensary vs. U.S. Attorney General could find its way onto the US Supreme Court docket. And the Supreme Court, looking at the vast majority of states that have settled the issue for themselves, would have no choice but to rubber-stamp the states’ decisions, or even rule broadly, striking down marijuana prohibition nationally.

The legalization of marijuana is following the same pattern as the legalization of same-sex marriage. If the laws pass in all 8 states, marijuana legalization will be only a few years behind where gay marriage was in the states at the time of the 2015 Obergefell ruling that struck down laws outlawing same-sex marriage nationally.

On the surface, gay marriage is more of a civil rights issue, while recreational marijuana use is more of a libertarian issue. But enforcement of simple possession laws ruins the lives of people of color at rates radically disproportionate to actual use. Minorities are typically arrested at a rate of more than 3 to 1 nationally, despite similar rates of use among all races. Legalizing marijuana use nationally would improve the lives of millions of people who would otherwise fall into the clutches of the Justice system for nothing more than the possession or use of a plant less addictive than nicotine and less destructive than alcohol. This has always been a powerful argument for legalization, and drove the legalization effort in Washington, D.C. Legalizing marijuana across the board would be the biggest and fastest way to reduce America’s role as the world’s leading incarceration state, and its inherent racial disparities. It would also diminish the creep of the political influence of horrendous industries like the private prison industry.

Activists for the marriage rights cause showed dramatically that winning in a critical mass of states can tip the whole country. Both movements have shown that a few dozen committed activists can force their community to pay attention to an issue. A few dozens communities can force a state to rule on an issue. A few dozen states can force the Supreme Court to to rubber-stamp an issue. This is progress. This is how we change America from the bottom up. So, grow the grass, puff, and pass the laws.

Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

 

 

Marc Belisle is the Reverb Press World Affairs Editor. He is a writer, activist and teacher. He has a Master’s degree in International Conflict Analysis from the Brussels School of International Studies. READ MORE BY MARC.

ReverbPress Mobile Apps ReverbPress iOS App ReverbPress Android App ReverbPress App

Marc Belisle is the Reverb Press World Affairs Editor. He is a writer, activist and teacher. He has a Master’s degree in International Conflict Analysis from the Brussels School of International Studies. READ MORE BY MARC.

ReverbPress Mobile Apps ReverbPress iOS App ReverbPress Android App ReverbPress App