The stigmatization of marijuana is something almost every American is familiar with and something that has a profound impact, one felt by dozens of American industries. When it was announced in late 2012 that two states, Colorado and Washington, had intentions to legalize the substance for recreational use, many reacted negatively to the legislation. Public protest of the drug’s legalization was widespread, with only 50% of Americans supporting legalization of marijuana in any capacity.
Despite these obstacles, it seems that the marijuana industry cannot grow fast enough. It was estimated that the nation’s recreational and medical marijuana industries, combined, earned a total of over $9 billion in 2017, with a projected growth up to $11 billion by the end of 2018. These projections become even more impressive as time goes on, with an anticipated valuation of $21 billion dollars in 2021 and expected total spending of over $57 billion worldwide in 2027. By this point, recreational usage will also dominate 67% of the market. All of these growth factors may be why approval ratings for marijuana legalization have launched up to a record high, with 64% of Americans supporting legalization of the substance. Despite opposition by the federal government and a number of reluctant states, the trend of market growth seen within the industry does not appear to be slowing down. In addition to this massive monetary growth, the legalization of marijuana by state legislatures is having a worldwide impact. Europe, for instance, is expected to dominate the medical marijuana industry within the next decade, becoming the world leader by 2030. Several european nations, such as Germany and Italy, are aiming for billion dollar markets by 2027. Israel, Australia, Canada, Brazil, and Argentina are also expected to break into the industry within this timeframe and join the U.S. as major investors in both medical and recreational marijuana.
So why haven’t all U.S. states legalized the drug? After all, it seems as though the drug has only helped the states that have legalized its recreational use; Colorado and Washington both boast lower drug possession arrest rates, higher crime clearance rates (even, surprisingly, for non-drug related crimes), and booming economies. The fact is that many Americans are still not “on board” with total legalization of the substance. A glaring lack of evidence as to the long term health effects of the drug is front and center in the debate, leaving many reluctant to detach marijuana from its negative stigma through legalization: if the drug is legal, won’t kids be more inclined to try it? This concern may be warranted: the unprecedented growth of JUUL (an electronic cigarette device that has amassed a user base mostly consisting of young adults and teenagers) has many parents claiming marijuana may see the same popularity spike amongst children following its legalization. This argument opens up all sorts of chaos and introduces further questions as to marijuana’s identity as a gateway drug, its potentially addictive nature (if used for extended periods), and the impact it has on users’ lungs, brains, and overall mental health. But perhaps the biggest questions that demand to be answered have to do with crime rates. While the aforementioned crime clearance figures do seem impressive at first glance, what’s to say they will last? How will geography influence these statistics? Will full legalization increase the rate of intoxicated driving incidents nationwide? These questions are part of the reason many states have been hesitant to enact the legislation to the extent of Washington or Colorado, for example.
Proponents of total legalization argue that these questions can only be answered with further research, and that this research will be more readily available if marijuana use is decriminalized on a larger scale. The enactment of pro-marijuana legislation will not only provide more subjects for wide scale research activities, but will also grant more funding for government sponsored research through collection of tax money applied to sales of the substance. The lack of credible information as to the effects of the drug on a user’s body can only be remedied through detailed research, something the government could provide best, many argue.
The legalization of marijuana, both for recreational and medicinal usage, has been a major discussion point in the media recently. While reluctance to pro-marijuana legislation amongst the American public has been present over the past couple years, support for its legalization has been steadily increasing over the past couple years and it appears as though this trend will continue. The potential negative side effects of the drug, many argue, should be ignored when focusing on the bigger picture: an immediate and powerful economic boost given by its introduction into the market. As time goes on, it seems more and more like the legalization question is not a matter of “if”, but of “when”. Whether we like it or not — marijuana is here to stay.