Nearly 60 million Americans may wake up Nov. 9 to find voters in their states have abolished long-standing marijuana prohibitions, a three-fold expansion for legal cannabis across the country.
Another 24 million Americans could find themselves in states with newly legal medical marijuana use, a smaller but still significant expansion of legalized pot around the United States. Already, half of the states permit some form of medical marijuana use, and more than half of all Americans live in a state that has approved medical marijuana.
California, experts say, will likely play the most significant role in cannabis legalization on Nov. 8. Voters in our most populous state are widely expected to approve the “Adult Use of Marijuana Act,” adding nearly 40 million names to the list of people who live in a state with legal pot.
Lawmakers see marijuana taxes as a source of new revenue to close budget gaps, while entrepreneurs are considering the business case, with potentially billions of dollars in profits possible from this fast-growing Made-In-America industry.
Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada are considering legalizing recreational marijuana. Voters in Arkansas, Florida, Montana and North Dakota are asking voters whether to permit medical use for certain conditions, like cancer or chronic pain. None of those votes will change the federal ban on marijuana use, although legalization advocates say it may further pressure Congress, the DEA and the FDA to act.
Four states — Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Alaska, plus the District of Columbia — have already legalized recreational marijuana. Another 25 permit medical use. But this election has the potential to dramatically shift the conversation because so many Americans live in the nine states where relaxation measures are being considered. If it were its own country, California alone would have the world’s sixth-largest economy, and what happens there almost inevitably spreads east.
Polls nationally show growing support for marijuana legalization. A poll released earlier this month by the Pew Research Center found 57% of adults think marijuana use should be legal, up from 53% last year and 32% in 2006. That despite the fact that marijuana remains a Schedule 1 controlled substance and is illegal at the federal level. A Gallup poll released Oct. 19 showed even stronger support: 60%, up from 58% last year and 50% in 2011.
“There’s been an enormous shift in public opinion on this issue, and I think that has directly led to why it is appearing on so many state’s (ballots) this year,” said John Kagia, executive vice president of industry analytics for New Frontier Data. “This is going to be an enormous industry, no matter how you slice it.”
Colorado was the first state to legalize recreational marijuana, with voters approving the measure in 2012 and sales launching in January 2014. That vote came after the country already had more than a decade of experience with medical marijuana, a deliberate strategy on the part of backers who say theystarted with medical marijuana first before seeking to broaden it. No state has yet legalized recreational marijuana via its legislature.
Critics say there’s insufficient evidence to back the health claims made by medical marijuana supporters. They worry widespread legalization opens the door to Big Tobacco-style companies interested in selling drugs to the public, especially kids, without regard for the public health consequences.
New Frontier, which doesn’t take a position on legalization, estimates the legal cannabis market could be worth nearly $8 billion by 2020.
Still, and particularly in California, entrepreneurs are rushing to fund greenhouses, invest in growing and harvesting technology and create social media platforms to connect buyers with cannabis recommendations. Those investments are targeted at medical marijuana, which is already legal, but the rush shows how investors are positioning themselves for what’s widely considered a slam-dunk recreational legalization vote in California.
“People are beginning to understand that this isn’t just about not putting people in prison, but about making a lot of money,” said Jeffrey Zinsmeister, the executive vice president of the anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, which has funded opposition campaigns in several states.
Original Article via USAToday