Marijuana legalization is sweeping across the USA with 29 states currently allowing the use of medical marijuana and 8 states permitting the use of recreational marijuana. The benefits of marijuana are starting to change the minds of those who were strongly against marijuana for a variety of reasons. The main reasons people were anti marijuana was due to historical stigma and a mistaken belief about the relationship between marijuana and crime rates. But this stigma is being broken down and the way marijuana is viewed in the USA is changing rapidly, as shown by recent polls. More than 20 % of the U.S. population now lives in a state where marijuana use is fully legal, and even strong opponents of legalization concede that norms around marijuana use are shifting.
Republicans and Marijuana
It would definitely seem that the times are changing rapidly. For the first time in history, a poll has demonstrated that a majority of supports Republicans on marijuana legalization. It might be time to reconsider what it means to be a Republican. 51% of Republicans surveyed by Gallup this month said they support legalization, up sharply from 42% a couple of years ago. Even larger majorities of independents (67%) and Democrats (72%) are in favor of legal marijuana. Overall, 64 % of Americans now support legalization, the highest percentage ever in Gallup polling. According to the analysis completed by Gallup:
“The trajectory of Americans’ views on marijuana is similar to that of their views on same-sex marriage over the past couple of decades…On both issues, about a quarter supported legalization in the late 1990s, and today 64% favor each.”
The difference between these two issues is that with marijuana, it has all changed in the last 5 years or so. The tide is turning swiftly in favor of marijuana, even among those historically against the substance. Republicans have always been associated with conservatism, which is basically an ideology system based on traditional values. Liberalism is typically an ideology based on acceptance and change and embracing the new. Republicans are typically conservative and Democrats are typically liberal, though the lines are somewhat blurry and complex at times.
The emergence of huge amounts of reputable scientific studies on the benefits of marijuana might have turned the tide for Republicans on the marijuana issue. Another notable point is that many individuals may have close relatives who are suffering from chronic illnesses and cannot ease their pain due to the lack of legal medical marijuana. Many people, including Republican politicians, have said that this is what changed their minds on the issue. The sharp shift in Republican voters’ views on pot is the most significant finding in the Gallup poll, coming during a time of increased federal skepticism of marijuana legalization efforts.
Mythical Marijuana Concerns
There is also the issue of the opioid epidemic, which has recently emerged. It is estimated that last year opioids killed over 15,000 people, and President Trump has acknowledged that it is a serious issue that needs to be addressed. And much of the available data indicates that marijuana use reduces opiate addiction. In the majority of states where medical marijuana was made legal, opiate prescription went down by significant amounts. And there is a considerable amount of anecdotal data from individuals who swear the marijuana lessened their addiction to opiates, and eventually eradicated. This goes against the stance held by Attorney General Jess Sessions, who has promised to crack down on marijuana on the basis that it is a gateway drug to harder substances. The reality is that marijuana is a gateway drug away from hard substances. What is baffling is how this fact was not discovered sooner, and marijuana stigma such as this has been believed since the ban of marijuana in 1937.
It appears that most of the fears and concerns surrounding marijuana are ill founded on all fronts. States that have legalized pot are also beginning to reap some of the benefits of the policy change, including job growth, tax revenue and a reduced opiate crisis. Additionally, the link between marijuana and crime has been disproven. Crime rates go down when dispensaries open and go up when dispensaries close, according to many studies. The only association between marijuana and crime was that marijuana was declared illegal, which made its possession a crime. This is known as circular reasoning.
Many thought that Colorado was reckless when they became the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. But it has been a huge success with few problems, and the most cited concerns by Colorado officials is out of state people who come to take advantage of the generous marijuana laws in the state. Fast forward a few years and many other states are adopting the Colorado recreational model.
A Safer Alternative
Legalization has also brought some challenges. The popularity of potent edible products proved to be a surprise, prompting lawmakers to scramble to regulate them. Stoned driving will continue to be a concern, as will medical issues among people who smoke more marijuana than they should. But some risks cannot be legislated away and humans will always make errors. Marijuana is safer than alcohol in most aspects, even being a safer drug to drive while intoxicated. This is because marijuana drivers tend to be conscious they are stoned and drive slower, whereas drunk drivers tend to be reckless and unaware. It is quite spectacular just how quickly the stigma surrounding marijuana is falling and next year Canada will become the first large first world country to adopt recreational marijuana. It is a safe bet that in the coming years recreational marijuana is going to expand, the only question is how quickly this will happen.