Support for the legalization of marijuana is at an all time high according to the University of Chicago’s bi-annual 2016 General Social Survey. The most current attitude data shows 57 percent of Americans agree with the statement that “use of marijuana should be legal.” This agreement level has been creeping up from 52 percent in 2014. Similar support for legalization (high 50 percents to low 60 percents range) has been found last year in other general attitude surveys on the subject. Support for legalization is strongest among younger and more socially liberal people.
- Two-thirds of respondents 18 to 34 support legalization.
- A majority of people in the age range between 18 and 64 support legalization.
- The older the respondent the less likely they are to support legalization. Only 42 percent of those over 64 support legalization.
The majority of support for legalization is relatively new and seems to reflect new awareness of the benefits and lack of harm in the use of marijuana. Only nine years ago in 2008, only 40 percent of the youngest respondents and just over 21 percent of seniors supported legalization.
Support for legalization is rising among all political groupings but faster among more socially liberal groups.
- In 2000, 29 percent of democrats and a similar proportion of Republicans, 26 percent, supported legalization.
- In 2016, support for legalization was 60 percent among Democrats and only 40 percent among Republicans. Support has increased in both groups but more significantly among Democrats and Independents.
Marijuana use outside of legalization has always been a popular underground pastime in the United States. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), which still classifies marijuana use as “the most commonly used illicit drug,” estimates that 22.2 million people use marijuana every month (more men than women–and the gender gap is widening). Marijuana use is widespread among adolescents and young adults, the groups who most favor legalization. The law that criminalizes possession of small quantities of marijuana is rarely enforced. Criminal charges do affect the distribution system for the drug, making it significantly risky to sell or distribute marijuana in quantity.
On the other hand the lure of illegal marijuana use is attracting many. The anti-establishment persona, the culturally ingrained image of the marijuana smoker defying the establishment, has made the risk of using this fairly hard to get and legally dangerous substance often seem worth it.
Legalization of marijuana is probably inevitable in the United States. Canadian lawmakers have announced that formal legalization of marijuana recreational use in Canada will be implemented by July 2018, throughout the country. The District of Columbia and 29 states have legalized marijuana for medical use, based on evidence that marijuana has medical applications. These state governments have licensed legal dispensaries where a range of marijuana brands and styles can be purchased with a doctor’s prescription.
Recreational marijuana use was illegal in all states just five years ago. Since then the District of Columbia and eight states have been in the process of complete legalization. A licensed distribution network with marijuana dispensaries has been established. There are routine retail worries about the sale of marijuana, the marketing, promotions, growing, packaging, shipping, the same as any other product. States legalizing marijuana benefit substantially from taxes. Sales of marijuana, for recreational and medical uses currently tops around $6.6 billion. Projections are that the marijuana retail industry will be worth more than $24 billion by 2025.
Flies in the ointment
Although individual states have been declaring marijuana legal, it remains illegal under federal law. California legalized marijuana in 1996. However, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) repeatedly raided medical marijuana dispensaries, regardless of their state-wide legality for many years.
In 2013, a document called “The Cole Memorandum” (written by former deputy attorney general James Cole) instructed DEA agents to stop prosecuting individual marijuana users and retailers who were operating legally in their own states, and to focus on “containment and prevention.” In essence the memorandum directed federal agencies to refrain from clashing with statewide marijuana policy. Currently, many are worried that Jeff Sessions, the current Attorney General in the Trump administration, could re-direct the DEA to take a more hardline stance.