Support for legalization of marijuana has reached record highs, according to a recent Gallup poll, with 64 percent of Americans saying its use should be made legal.
Gallup conducted more than 1,000 telephone interviews in October 2017 in all 50 states, finding that marijuana legalization now has the highest level of support in nearly a half-century of tracking the issue. Moreover, that support is now bipartisan.
“Democrats and independents have historically been much more likely than Republicans to say marijuana should be legalized,” Gallup researchers said. “In 2009, Democrats were the first partisan group to see majority support for legalization, followed by independents in 2010. This year for the first time, a majority of Republicans express support for legalizing marijuana; the current 51 percent is up nine percentage points from last year.”
Earlier in 2017 a Quinnipiac University National Poll of more than 1,000 Americans showed similar public sentiment in favor of legalization, with 60 percent of respondents saying that marijuana use should be legal in the United States, and 94 percent in favor of medical marijuana use as prescribed by a doctor.
Further, Quinnipiac reported that 73 percent of those interviewed oppose enforcement of federal anti-marijuana laws in states where cannabis has been legalized, framing it as a states’ rights issue.
The growing support cuts across most socioeconomic categories. Quinnipiac researchers noted, “Republicans and voters over age 65 are the only listed party, gender, education, age or racial groups to oppose legalized marijuana.”
Despite more relaxed views on the topic, there remains plenty of room for debate.
“Opponents of medical marijuana argue that it is too dangerous to use, lacks FDA approval and that various legal drugs make marijuana use unnecessary,” according to procon.org, a nonpartisan, nonprofit website that presents research, studies and pro-and-con statements on questions related to whether or not marijuana should be a medical option.
“They say marijuana is addictive, leads to harder drug use, interferes with fertility, impairs driving ability and injures the lungs, immune system and brain. They say that medical marijuana is a front for drug legalization and recreational use.”
On the flip side, according to procon.org, “Proponents of medical marijuana argue that it can be a safe and effective treatment for the symptoms of cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis, pain, glaucoma, epilepsy and other conditions. They cite dozens of peer-reviewed studies, prominent medical organizations, major government reports and the use of marijuana as medicine throughout world history.”
Rising approval ratings track with state-level implementation of laws permitting medical marijuana use and/or decriminalizing recreational pot, despite federal prohibitions against it:
- Eight states and the District of Columbia have the most expansive laws for the recreational use of marijuana.
- Fourteen states and the U.S. Virgin Islands have decriminalized the possession of cannabis.
- Twenty-four states allow medical marijuana.
- Sixteen states — including Alabama — have legalized only cannabinoid (CBD) oil.
- Marijuana is completely illegal in only three states (Idaho, Kansas and South Dakota), American Samoa and the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.
The Washington D.C-based Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), a pro-cannabis lobbying group, said 18 state legislatures are expected to tackle some sort of legalization bills in the next year.
Do growing public support and incremental changes in state laws foreshadow full marijuana legalization across the United States? Maybe, but don’t expect Alabama to lead the way, according to MPP.
“Alabama has some of the harshest marijuana penalties in the country,” according to MPP. “Possession of even a single joint is punishable by up to a year of incarceration.” There is “little momentum for change in the legislature,” the pro-pot lobbying group concluded.
Marijuana in Alabama
Nevertheless, Alabama has taken baby steps toward legalization for at least medical purposes, having passed in 2014 the act called “Carly’s Law,” which allows for a clinical study at the University of Alabama at Birmingham to study the effects of non-psychoactive, marijuana-derived CBD oil on children with debilitating seizures. The law was named after the toddler Carly Chandler of Birmingham, who suffers from a rare genetic disorder causing frequent, severe seizures, and passed both chambers of the legislature unanimously.
In 2016, Alabama state legislators followed up with “Leni’s Law” to decriminalize CBD oil so that patients with seizure disorders and other serious medical conditions to legally use the substance.
Since then, bills have been presented seeking to more broadly legalize medical marijuana or to eliminate criminal penalties for first-time offenders with under an ounce of pot, but those measures never made it to a floor vote in the Alabama Legislature.
On the local level, an effort to authorize Mobile Police Department officers to issue citations instead of arresting people for minor drug offenses died in 2017 amid controversy about whether it constituted an effort to “decriminalize” pot.
Cities elsewhere in the nation have instituted similar policies, sometimes citing ACLU studies showing that blacks are arrested more frequently and punished much more severely than whites for using or possessing pot, even though blacks and whites use marijuana at an almost identical rate.
While Alabama policy-makers and legislators debate the next step, if any, for marijuana, the landscape is changing in neighboring states, according to the MPP.
Mississippi, which like Alabama legalized only the use of CBD oil, is 1 of 22 states that have decriminalized marijuana possession for personal use. First offense possession of about an ounce of pot is punishable by a $250 fine instead of jail time and a civil summons as opposed to arrest.
Florida has legalized medical marijuana for its permanent and seasonal residents and has issued proposed regulations for marijuana treatment centers.
Georgia lawmakers in 2017 greatly expanded the list of conditions for which doctors may now prescribe CBD oil. In October the Atlanta city council unanimously approved a measure to end jail time and lower fines for those caught with an ounce or less of pot.
Seminary president predicts marijuana’s ‘human toll’
As legal recreational marijuana sales began in California on Jan. 1, Gateway Baptist Theological Seminary President Jeff Iorg bemoaned the increased “human toll” the drug is likely to have on America’s most populous state.
“Whatever economic gains the legalization of marijuana will supposedly produce will be offset by the human toll on damaged relationships, loss of productivity in the workforce and the cost of expanded social programs to deal with the fallout of this bad social experiment,” he said. “It’s another step in the wrong direction for a culture bent on self-medication as a solution to personal struggles.”
California voters approved recreational marijuana legalization in November 2016. The law permits adults 21 and older to possess as much as an ounce of marijuana and grow up to six marijuana plants at home, according to CNN. The law took effect at the beginning of 2018, with various media outlets reporting long lines at some of the approximately 100 shops that have obtained permits to sell the drug recreationally.
California joins Alaska, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon and Washington as states where recreational marijuana is sold with legal sanction from the state. It has been approved but is not yet sold legally in Maine and Massachusetts.
Medical marijuana use has been approved by 29 states and the District of Columbia.
All marijuana use remains illegal according to federal law, though two drugs approved by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) contain a chemical found in marijuana, according to a 2016 DEA report.
The DEA classifies marijuana as a “Schedule I” drug — signifying it has no accepted medical use, is not accepted by experts as safe for use under medical supervision and has a high potential for abuse. The Obama administration announced in 2016 it would maintain that classification, supporting its decision with release of 400 pages of marijuana-related materials, including citations of more than 200 published studies. (BP)