In today’s hyper-partisan environment, few issues enjoy majority support among those on both the right and the left of the political spectrum. But voters’ support for marijuana law reform is bucking this trend.
According to the latest national polling compiled by Gallup, 66 percent of U.S. adults — including majorities of Democrats, independents and Republicans — believe that the adult use of marijuana should be legal. The percentage of Americans who are supportive of the medicalization of marijuana is even higher. According to a 2018 Quinnipiac University poll, 93 percent of voters — including 86 percent of Republicans and 97 percent of Democrats — believe that patients ought to be able to access cannabis legally if they possess the authorization of their doctor.
Not surprisingly then, when given the opportunity to decide in favor of marijuana legalization, voters routinely elect to do so. To date, 33 states regulate the use and dispensing of medical cannabis. In more than half of these jurisdictions, these laws were enacted by the passage of a voter initiative — including most recently in the “red” states of Missouri, Oklahoma and Utah. Ten states have legalized the use of marijuana by all adults. Nine of these state laws were voter initiated, including most recently in Michigan.
As a result, most Americans now reside in a jurisdiction where some type of marijuana use is legally permitted and regulated. Contrary to the predictions of naysayers, the sky has not fallen. Teen use has remained flat and public safety has not been compromised. According to 2018 data compiled by the Colorado Department of Health, “Youth marijuana use remains relatively unchanged since legalization.” Data compiled by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy reaches a similar conclusion, finding: “(A)cross grades 6, 8, 10 and 12, cannabis use indicators have been stable or fallen slightly since I-502’s enactment. … We found no evidence that the amount of legal cannabis sales affected youth substance use or attitudes about cannabis or drug-related criminal convictions.”
With respect to traffic safety, data published in 2017 in The American Journal of Public Health reported “no significant association between recreational marijuana legalization in Washington and Colorado and subsequent changes in motor vehicle crash fatality rates in the first three years after recreational marijuana legalization.”
Rather than acting as a purported “gateway” to hard drug use, marijuana legalization is associated with reduced rates of opioid abuse and prescription drug spending. According to the findings of a RAND Corporation study, “States permitting medical marijuana dispensaries experience a relative decrease in both opioid addictions and opioid overdose deaths compared to states that do not.”
A separate analysis published in the journal Health Affairs concluded, “We found that the use of prescription drugs for which marijuana could serve as a clinical alternative fell significantly once a medical marijuana law was implemented.”
This is why more and more politicians are now jumping on board. For example, in this past election, nearly a dozen winning governors campaigned on platforms that included marijuana legalization. Lawmakers in numerous states — including Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island — are now moving forward with legalization measures.
At the federal level, incoming House Rules Chairman Jim McGovern of Massachusetts immediately sought to distinguish himself from his Republican predecessor by pledging, “I’m not going to block (House floor) amendments for marijuana.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is a former co-sponsor of legislation to legalize the medical use of cannabis, while the new chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Jerry Nadler of New York, previously co-sponsored legislation that sought to allow states to regulate cannabis like alcohol.
Of the 2020 presidential hopefuls thus far, almost all are on record in support of ending the federal prohibition of cannabis.
At a time when the majority of states regulate marijuana use, and when a growing number of leading politicians are calling for cannabis’ liberation, it makes no sense from a political, fiscal or cultural perspective to try to put this genie back in the bottle. It is time for members of the 116th Congress to 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. That’s something virtually all voters can agree on.