Political pundits around the world see the outcome of the 2016 US Presidential election as a complete repudiation of the establishment. There was another repudiation as well—a rejection of the decades old federal criminalization of marijuana. Voters in Massachusetts, California, Nevada and Maine approved ballot measures that will permit the use of recreational marijuana. Anyone over the age of 21 will be able to smoke pot. They join Colorado and Washington, where voters passed measures to legalize marijuana in 2012.
Medical marijuana initiatives were approved in North Dakota, Florida and Arkansas. Montana voters approved a measure that will relax existing medical marijuana laws. Florida’s measure passed by 71%, a very healthy majority and a victory of states’ rights over federal enforcement.
The California victory is a big one as 12% of the total US population lives in the state and it offers the largest market for marijuana products. Proponents of the measure were not simply looking to provide residents with more opportunities to get high, they see marijuana as a legitimate component of a healthy economic engine. Legalization will enable California entrepreneurs to develop a variety of cannabis based products that go beyond smoking. Licenses are not expected to be issued before 2018, quite a time away, but this has not dampened the euphoria. Measure advocates are looking forward to a new cottage industry and revenue that will enable the state to pay for a long list of social, educational and environmental projects.
The Colorado precedent has demonstrated to other states that they can enjoy a new, stable source of revenue, create new jobs, save money on law enforcement and reduce crime. In fact, according to a report by the Marijuana Policy Group, the legalization of recreational use in Colorado has resulted in the creation of 18,000 full-time jobs and added $2.4 billion to the state’s coffers in 2015.
Legalization advocates also cite the failure of the national war on drugs, noting that the federal effort has cost billions and has disproportionately impacted minorities. They believe legalizing marijuana will cut down on the drug trade, especially from Mexico and Latin America.
Florida’s ballot measure will establish one of the most liberal medical marijuana laws in the country. It will not be limited to HIV, cancer and PTSD, but will also be available to patients suffering from other medical conditions that have a similar impact and for which a physician believes marijuana would help ease the suffering. And Florida is not alone, the North Dakota medical marijuana measure also allows a physician to prescribe its use for a number of conditions in addition to cancer and HIV.
Legalizing marijuana seems to have bipartisan support and the number of proponents within both parties is on the rise. This is primarily due to new research that proves that marijuana has few side effects while offering significant health benefits. In addition, legalizing marijuana takes the profit out of the hands of an underground industry and brings it to municipal and state treasuries. These are realities that both parties can get behind, and in the current political atmosphere, many people may find cross-party agreement of this sort to be soothing and encouraging.