At this point in time, legalizing marijuana looks like an easy win-win for states. Marijuana legalization has led to job creation, increased funding for schools and social programs through tax revenues, and decreased crime and law enforcement spending – all thanks to voter-backed initiatives that have passed in a few select states. Though we’re a few years into the great marijuana legalization experiment with overwhelmingly positive results, a good portion of Americans still aren’t convinced it’s a good idea.
With 2016’s election cycle set to bring a slew of new legalization measures in several states, many parts of the country are still on the fence about ending cannabis prohibition. Attitudes are changing, as we have seen in numerous polls – but there are still several regions and demographics that are simply not on board with legalization. At least not yet.
Gallup has done a good deal of polling in this area, and as you can see from the chart below, found that public sentiment backing legalization is at an all-time high:
As of late 2015, 58% of Americans were on board with legalization. Compare that to 20 years prior, in 1995, when just 25% supported it. Or go back even further, all the way to 1969, when support was at just 12%. Clearly, there have been some huge swings in public opinion, and that momentum has actually carried through into real changes to the law. Even the Supreme Court has shown support to the legalization measures individual states have passed.
This would’ve been unthinkable a generation or two ago. Needless to say, we’re witnessing an unprecedented shift.
According to Gallup’s data, the reason we’re seeing such a big shift is that older people, with generally more conservative views around drug use and marijuana, are dying. Add that to the fact that we have much more information – information that’s accessible via the Internet, to everyone – regarding the supposed dangers of marijuana.
Though there are still questions out there, the cat’s out of the bag: marijuana simply isn’t dangerous. At least not anything like we had been led to believe.
With so many reasons to support legalization, why are some Americans still firmly against the notion? While any individual could make a case based on their own personal beliefs and experiences, by and large, it basically whittles down to three main things: moral issues, concerns about health and safety, and concerns about erosion of patient’s rights under medical laws.
Some people are maintaining a moral argument against legalization. In their minds, legalizing marijuana is basically giving everyone (even children) the societal nod to go ahead and do it. That doesn’t sit well with many people. Certain religions also call for abstinence against certain substances, and marijuana can be thrown into that pot. The truth is, anyone can have any number of moral issues with marijuana.
Secondly, health and safety concerns. This is a perfectly legitimate qualm. There have been studies that have shown marijuana can indeed cause issues with teenage users, or those still in developmental stages of their lives. Also, worries about people driving under the influence are very real. But as the evidence continues to mount, these concerns are being eroded – and fast. Marijuana is certainly less dangerous than other perfectly legal substances, and there’s even evidence that the streets are safer in states where prohibition has ended.
Still, there’s more research to be done.
Finally, some folks are against legalization measures that they fear will erode existing medical laws – causing them to end up paying much more for their medicinal needs when taxation is included, and losing the ability to grow their own at their home. This is also a very legitimate fear, and should be of concern for medical marijuana patients nationwide. Some legalization measures aren’t very sound – as we saw when Ohio voted down a law that would’ve legalized marijuana, but also installed a monopoly.
Getting the legislation right is important, and the laws themselves will evolve with time. We have to keep in mind that this is a brand new concept, and states are experimenting with different approaches. It hasn’t been done before, and there is no road map.
Legalization looks to be in the bag for many states, so long as the Feds don’t pull the plug. But that doesn’t mean everyone is convinced that legalization is a good idea. As time marches on, and the evidence continues to pile up, it’ll be interesting to see how many remain steadfast in that belief, even as more and more people change their minds.