Cannabis Legalization Is the Bipartisan Issue We Need Right Now

The race for the White House has created some pretty divisive partisan and outright hostility between progressive and conservative parties. However, some bipartisan issues have come to the forefront this election year, which may help unify the country. Specifically, several states are voting on the legalization of marijuana for recreational use next month, and with a significant positive change in support from conservatives, the outlook is positive for bipartisan support.

Cannabis is currently legal for recreational use in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington. In 2016, an unprecedented number of additional states are voting on cannabis legalization: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana, Nevada, and North Dakota. Cannabis legalization could be the bipartisan issue our country needs right now, based on some key aspects of this issue.

Conservatives are increasingly supportive of cannabis legalization. The results from a YouGov.com poll conducted back in July showed that for the first time ever, Republicans narrowly support legalizing marijuana. The poll showed a significant decrease to 42 percent opposed, as compared with a January 2014 survey that showed as much as 60 percent of Republicans were opposed to cannabis legalization.

Most Republicans polled still believe many of the anti-legalization arguments, such as the idea that cannabis is a gateway to harder drugs. However, the increasing support from Republican voters indicates an interesting transition in their attitude toward prohibition of the drug. “The most interesting thing about this is, literally, the Republican attitude towards marijuana itself hasn’t actually changed much,” Peter Moore, YouGov.com pollster, told Leafly. “The only thing that’s changed is the attitude towards prohibition.”

Currently, about 55 percent of Americans (conservatives and progressives together) are in support of cannabis legalization – an increase from 52 percent in December 2015. So, as more Republicans put their support behind legalizing marijuana for recreational and/or medical use in these states, endorsement of this issue has become increasingly (and surprisingly) bipartisan. Why?

Cost and economic progress is promoted with cannabis legalization. Cannabis legalization offers significant financial and environmental benefits. There is also a significant benefit to the environment and reduced energy with cannabis production in legalized states. Colorado, the first state to legalize the substance, has experienced a booming economy and decreased unemployment. The state collected approximately $53 million in taxes during the first year after legalization, alone. It’s impossible for conservative voters not to see the economic benefit of cannabis legalization, even if they disagree with its use.

What’s more, conservatives are beginning to see enforcement of marijuana offenses as a waste of money, based on the polling data. According to the YouGov.com poll mentioned earlier in this article, “In December 55% of Republicans thought government efforts to enforce marijuana laws cost more than they were worth, something 54% of Republicans still think.” The poll found that Republicans still see cannabis as a gateway drug, but their support for legalization is growing. “I think it reflects a shift on the part of Republicans, not in terms of marijuana, but in terms of their sense of law enforcement,” Moore said.

Legalizing marijuana would eliminate a lot of extra federal and state costs, in addition to boosting states’ economies with additional tax income. The costs of arresting, processing, charging and (if applicable) incarcerating Americans for cannabis violations such as DUIDs and simple possession are astronomical. According to Drug Sense’s real-time Drug War Clock, federal and state governments have spent more than $30 billion on the War of Drugs so far in 2016, a significant portion of which is spent on cannabis violations. About 89 percent of people charged with cannabis violations were only in possession of cannabis, and arrests for cannabis violations are made every 30 seconds in the U.S.

Cannabis legalization is even more strongly supported by Democrats. As the Republicans become more and more supportive of the legalization of cannabis, progressive voters remain highly favorable. About 65 percent of people who identified as Democrat in YouGov.com’s July poll were in favor of cannabis legalization, with 25 percent opposed.

The Democratic party has also made a more public positive stance on the issue. At the Democratic National Convention this year, the party endorsed a “reasoned pathway for future legalization” of marijuana with an amendment that said, “Because of conflicting laws concerning marijuana, both on the federal and state levels, we encourage the federal government to remove marijuana from its list as a Class 1 Federal Controlled Substance, providing a reasoned pathway for future legalization.”

As with any issue, the complexities related to the legalization of cannabis for recreational use are widespread. However, the significant revenues and economic benefits of ending cannabis prohibition have been discussed for more than a decade, and legalizing marijuana for recreational use in Colorado and other states has produced some important results. As Republicans and Democrats continue to increase their support for cannabis legalization, we may have found the key to improving America’s economy.

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