Russell Hebets Nov. 3, 2016

Next week, the ballots of 9 states have some sort of marijuana related legislation for voters to decide on and the results may significantly change the landscape of legal marijuana across the country.

Where is Marijuana Legal Now?

Currently 4 states (Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska) and the District of Columbia have legal medical and recreational marijuana.

However, there are twenty other states which have medical marijuana only. They are California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Louisiana, Montana, Minnesota, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Maine, Vermont, New York, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland.

About half the nation has marijuana legal in some form and the majority of the western states have legal marijuana. Therefore many argue that the coming election will be a tipping point on legalization and a major hallmark on the path to federal legalization.

Where Could the Law Change?

Several of the states that already have medical marijuana are voting to make it recreational as well. These are California, Nevada, Maine, Arizona, and Massachusetts. Of these five, California, Maine and Massachusetts are predicted to approve recreational sales without issues. Nevada and Arizona appear to be close races where legalization may not pass.

Four more states will consider medical marijuana: Florida, Arkansas, North Dakota and Montana. Montana has actually approved medical marijuana in previous elections but the laws there have become unworkable due to constant tinkering so they are trying to vote on a plan that will hopefully work better for patients and businesses. According to polls, Florida may become the first southern state to permit medical marijuana.

As the most populous state, however, California may be the most significant shift. It would not only send a strong message in favor of national legalization but it would make the entire west coast completely legal, medically and recreationally.  

The Colorado Experiment

As the first state to go completely legal, Colorado is often viewed as a model of marijuana legalization. With the successes we have experienced it is no wonder. Tax revenue has increased, over 18,000 jobs have been created, opioid overdose is down, teen use is down and money that once disappeared into the black market is now benefiting the state. The industry positively affects the businesses that meet their needs as well, such as security companies, growers, packagers etc. And because arrests for possession are down, law enforcement can direct its resources elsewhere.

However, it is important to note that there are still opponents of legal marijuana in Colorado and elsewhere who claim that things are not better with legalization. In fact, Denver DA Mitch Morrissey argues that the crime rate has increased since legalization and he opposes it. Of course, the population in Denver has also increased significantly and it is difficult to attribute an increase in crime to just one factor.

Despite these claims against legalization, other states have an example to guide them and they seek to cash in on the huge benefits marijuana may provide.

The Changing Tide

Several recent surveys indicate that more than half of Americans favor legalization across the country. The Public Religion Research Institute’s survey showed 63% of Americans favored legislation; a recent Gallup poll indicated support at 60%; and a Pew Research Center survey showed support at 57%. While these do not guarantee that initiatives will pass in the states that have them, it does show a marked increase in favor of legalization in a short time. Surveys from last year indicated that about 44% favored legalization.

While every proposal may not pass, it is certain we are about to become a nation where more than half of its states permit pot use in some way. This is a remarkable turn of events over time and the potential trigger for national legalization to occur sooner rather than later.