Marijuana legalization is in full swing in some parts of the country, and it’s clear that both laws and attitudes toward cannabis and prohibition are changing rapidly. With the past two election cycles producing four states with full recreational marijuana legalization laws, and 2016 set to bring us even more, marijuana is set to be a hotly debated topic among regulators and politicians for years to come.
With the release of a recent Gallup poll, the only thing going up in smoke faster than dank nugs of Green Crack in Portland are people’s support for the continuation of prohibition laws. Not only that, but the number of Americans who are willing to admit that they have had a toke or two is as high as it’s been since 1969.
Take a quick glance at the chart from Gallup to see how after a long, long time of roughly a third of the population having responded “yes” to the question of whether they had tried marijuana, the number has jumped 10 percentage points since the dawn of the new millennium — and spiked 6 percentage points in the past two or three years alone. This shouldn’t be all that surprising, considering that marijuana use is no longer being viewed on the same level as heroin or methamphetamine use (thanks Reefer Madness). In fact, it’s become painfully obvious that marijuana presents no real threat to health or safety at all — and can be, in many cases, beneficial.
Marijuana only became a problem when it was made illegal, and billions upon billions were spent hunting down, prosecuting, and subsequently locking up those who were caught using or selling it. But now that voters are having a change of heart, including President Obama himself, more people are comfortable with admitting that they’ve had a brush with the Devil’s Lettuce.
What’s still surprising is that the vast majority of Americans are still reluctant to admit they currently use cannabis, or cannabis products. Only 11% of respondents answered in the affirmative to that question, which is still a considerable leap from the 7% who answered “yes” to the same question in 2013.
It is understandable why almost 90% of respondents would still be unwilling to admit that they currently use marijuana. For one, people have jobs. Most employers still have strict anti-drug use rules, and many screen their employees for drug use — even in states in which marijuana has been legalized. Also, there is still some significant stigma around using marijuana. In many people’s minds, it’s still a very dangerous drug, or something that only bored teenagers and reckless youngsters toy around with.
With that said, if you were to take a walk around office building clusters in Portland, Seattle, or Denver, you’d likely witness many people using vape pens or other instruments to consume cannabis. They’re still just unwilling to admit it to Gallup.
But even so, what’s undeniable is that marijuana, and ending prohibition more specifically, has become a major political issue. With ties to business, the economy, and the criminal justice system, marijuana legalization can and will effect every American in some way — whether directly or indirectly. Jobs are being created, people are either being released or kept out of jail, and millions of people dependent on the medicinal properties of cannabis can use it without fear of punishment from the state and federal government.
As this recent Gallup poll goes to show, stigma is waning, and attitudes are changing. Fairly rapidly, too.
If the dominoes fall as expected, and states like California and Massachusetts — both with sizable populations, and legalization bills in the pipeline — go on to vote down prohibition laws in 2016, it may be too late to pull the plug, even if a sitting president decides to reverse course from Obama’s strategy. One Republican candidate has continuously been outspoken about his opposition to marijuana legalization, with New Jersey governor Chris Christie promising to use the full power of the federal government if he is elected.
“If you’re getting high in Colorado today, enjoy it,” Christie said at a town hall in New Hampshire, per a Politico report. “As of January 2017, I will enforce the federal laws.”
But his attitude and views toward cannabis are on the way out, as we can see from Gallup’s work. So rest assured, cannabis connoisseurs, the only thing more unlikely than a Christie presidency, at this point, is the American public reversing course on their feelings about marijuana legalization
Follow Sam on Twitter @SliceOfGinger
More from Money & Career Cheat Sheet:
- Marijuana is Now Legal in Oregon, Making the Northwest a Bud Hub
- The Race is On to Create the First Marijuana Breathalyzer
- When Teens Have More Access to Marijuana, This is What Happens
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