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Legal marijuana could gain traction this election season

Jesse Wiles/The Round Table

Jesse Wiles/The Round Table

This volatile election cycle has featured numerous clashes, barbs and jabs that have made even the heartiest followers of politics grow a bit weary. But for one topic in particular, the upcoming vote could ring in a new wave of success: marijuana.

Voters in Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada will all consider legalizing recreational cannabis. Medical marijuana will be on the ballot in Arkansas, Florida, Montana and North Dakota.

California, in particular, could play a massive role in possibly getting marijuana legalized nationwide. California is the most populous state in the U.S., in addition to having an economy that would rank as the sixth-highest in the world if it were its own country. If marijuana is legalized The Golden State, it would add roughly 40 million names to the list of people who can access legal marijuana.

Legalizing pot in California would also add the state to a coalition that stretches the entire West Coast and into Colorado. This group would possess considerable might in challenging the federal ban on the drug.

“If we’re successful, it’s the beginning of the end of the war on marijuana,” Gavin Newsom, the lieutenant governor of California and a former mayor of San Francisco, told the New York Times. “If California moves, it will put more pressure on Mexico and Latin America writ large to reignite a debate on legalization there.”

Marijuana remains a Schedule I drug, a classification that puts it on par with heroin in the eyes of the federal government.

Since states have begun to legalize pot, the federal government has announced that it will not attempt to prosecute states under certain conditions. The federal government also receives tax dollars from this fertile new industry. However, the marijuana companies that provide those tax dollars have had difficulties setting up their finances thanks to the federal ban.

The economic market for recreational and medicinal marijuana is projected to jump from $7 billion this year to $22 billion in 2020 if California says yes, according to projections made by the Arcview Group, a firm that links investors with cannabis companies.

“This is the vote heard round the world,” Arcview’s chief executive, Troy Dayton told the New York Times. “What we’ve seen before has been tiny compared to what we are going to see in California.”

Those who are supporting legalization in cannabis in California — where the initiative is expected to pass easily — have cited Colorado, where drug arrests have fallen dramatically and a hearty new sum of tax money has funded a wide variety of public initiatives, largely in education.

Support is not limited to states with the issue on the ballot. A Gallup poll released Oct. 19 showed strong support for legalization: 60 percent, up from 58 percent last year and 50 percent 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,” John Kagia, executive vice president of industry analytics for New Frontier Data, told USA TODAY. “This is going to be an enormous industry, no matter how you slice it.”

Still, a wide array of voices have made their disagreement on the topic known.

Jennifer Tejada, the chairwoman of the law and legislative committee of the California Police Chiefs Association, believes the legalization measures to not be well considered.

“It’s like putting a 12-year-old behind the wheel of a car and saying, ‘Go for a drive! Let’s study the safety issues later,’” she said. “It’s ludicrous.”

Meanwhile, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration — a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services — released a study in July 2016 that attempted to show that people who fear marijuana stay away from it.

“In our business, if we can bring more education and awareness to the dangers of marijuana and the dangerous effects on developing young people’s brains, the use rate should go down,” Fran Harding, Director of SAMHSA’s Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, told USA TODAY.

Some people also believe that arguments regarding marijuana arrests have been skewed over times.

“Go to any county jail and find someone who is in there for possession of marijuana,” Tejada told the New York Times. “It hasn’t happened for two decades.”

But while the number of arrests for simple marijuana possession in 2015 was at its lowest mark since 1996, the figure was still 574,641 according to FBI data.

Meanwhile, many arguments have been made about the addictive quality of marijuana. A study published in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry found that pot was more addictive than alcohol but less so than tobacco.

“The addictiveness of cannabis has been underestimated,” said Jesse Cougle, the lead author. The finding “definitely contradicts a lot of opinions on the topic,” he said. Among weekly users, the study found a 25 percent risk of dependence for marijuana compared with 16 percent for alcohol and 67 percent for tobacco.

“People die from alcohol every day,” Adam Bierman, a co-founder and the chief executive of MedMen, a cannabis investment firm, told the New York Times. “People don’t die from marijuana.”

Despite the concerns of people like Tejada and Harding and other anti-marijuana advocates, the tides are beginning to turn for proponents of legalization. The financial gains could be massive, the medical benefits are proven and the fears surrounding the drug are beginning to look more and more like unreasoned paranoia.

With economic data and medical advancements coming out in their favor, it is now in the hands of voters of all stripes to decide the fate of legal marijuana in this country.

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