Analysis |

Will the U.S. Election Be a Turning Point for Worldwide Pot Legalization?

Five states will be voting on decriminalizing marijuana on Nov. 8, including California, which is expected to vote yes and spur a global change in attitudes toward the healing herb.

Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev
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A pot store in Colorado, where marijuana has been legalized. The IADA is particularly concerned about widespread use among teens.Credit: AP
Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

Most of the world is tensely following the mad race for the United States presidency, which is overshadowing other items coming up for a vote on November 8. Most prominent among them is legalization of marijuana, which is on the ballot in five states, including California, America’s most populous state. The other four are Arizona, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts.

Observers believe that a “yes” vote on legalization, particularly in California, will be a turning point that will pave the way for making the drug legal throughout the U.S. in a few years. Most experts think that if that happens, it’s only a matter of time before marijuana is decriminalized all over the world.

In every state where there’s a legalization proposition on the ballot, the supporters are leading in the polls. Those states that legalize marijuana will join Washington State and Colorado, which legalized pot in 2012, and Oregon, Alaska and Washington D.C., which did so in 2014. Public opinion polls have shown that over the years the American public has fundamentally changed its attitude toward the drug, with most supporting its legalization.

California’s importance is obvious; it has 40 million residents, the world’s sixth-largest economy, and is known as a pioneer of world trends, including the change in attitudes towards marijuana. In 1996, California was the first state in the world to approve the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes. 

One shouldn’t underestimate the significance of the drug being legalized in Maine and certainly in Massachusetts either. This would constitute the first movement of the legalization trend from the western United States to the northeast; if Massachusetts votes yes, pot will be legal in the state on December 15, and it’s likely that neighboring Connecticut and certainly New York will follow within a short time. One might add that in the spring, the Trudeau government in Canada is expected to submit a bill that would permit the private use of marijuana throughout that country.

Proposition 64 in California would allow the recreational use of marijuana by adults aged 21 and over. Users could either smoke pot or consume it in other ways in their homes or in establishments that would be licensed to allow its use on the premises. The proposal would permit possession of 28.5 grams of the drug, or eight grams of concentrated cannabis in other forms, like candies or food products. Residents would be permitted to grow up to six marijuana plants in their homes and the state will issue licenses to those who wish to grow and sell the drug commercially.

The proposal imposes new taxes on both growers and purchasers that are expected to add $1 billion a year to the state’s coffers. The revenue from these taxes will be used to fund drug research, treatment and enforcement, and programs for young addicts. Colorado’s success in collecting these taxes and turning marijuana sales into a revenue producer apparently aroused the jealousy of California and other nearby states, including more conservative ones like Kansas. Because plenty of marijuana makes its way from Colorado to neighboring states in any case, those statehouses are increasingly mourning the income lost because pot remains illegal in their domains.

Supporters of the proposition in California are getting generous funding from many wealthy people, including entrepreneur Sean Parker, the former president of Facebook and founder of Napster, who together with his partners have contributed nearly $9 million to the “Yes on 64” campaign. Rapper Jay-Z also supports the proposal and recorded one of the videos advancing the proposal. The Democratic Party, the governing party in California, also supports the proposal, although veteran Sen. Diane Feinstein is opposed.

Supporters argue that the proposal will stop the misuse of medical marijuana by millions of drug users, will put the entire industry under supervision – preventing the drug’s sale to children and undermining drug dealers – and will bring hundreds of millions of dollars of tax revenue to the state.

Opponents respond that permitting the drug will increase the number of casualties from drivers driving under the influence; in Colorado there was an increase of 32 percent in the number of road accidents the first year after pot was made legal. Opponents are focusing their efforts on the fact Proposition 64 allows particularly marijuana advertisements on television, claiming that this will increase the use of the drug by teenagers. In Massachusetts the issue of drug use by children has been a key part of the anti-approval campaign.

Propositions to legalize marijuana have been rejected twice by Californians, once in 1972 and again in 2010, when 53.5 percent of voters objected. This time, after other states have paved the way most polls show supporters with a considerable advantage and the proposition is expected to pass.

The expectation is that a victory for legalization in California, along with what is expected to be sweeping victories by Democrats throughout the country, will quickly lead to the revocation of federal statutes on marijuana consumption. This would also end the anomaly of the federal government refraining from enforcing its own laws in states that have legalized marijuana.