So Where Are We On Legal Weed?
With the results of the 2020 election now all tallied up, we finally know the answers to the questions that have been plaguing us every day. Who's going to be the President of the United States? What party is going to have control of the House and Senate? But, most importantly, where is the nearest state I can hit up and smoke a joint? Because after this incredibly anxiety-inducing and drawn-out election process -- a bit of destressing Canna-Tourism doesn't sound like a bad idea at all.
It actually might not be that hard for you to find a state you can toke up in. Every weed-related measure on the ballot was passed this election cycle, adding a whopping four states to the list of places you can go get legal weed for recreational use. With New Jersey, Arizona, Montana, and South Dakota joining the ranks, this is the biggest green wave of legalization we've seen so far. Perhaps we can credit this sweep to all the stoners who were able to fill out mail-in ballots because they were too indacouch to go to the polls.
With 15 states and Washington DC legalizing recreational cannabis and the total of states allowing for medical marijuana reaching 36 -- we have tipped the bong on America's outlook for legal marijuana.
Recreational cannabis in New Jersey is putting major pressure on the rest of the Northeast to quickly get legalization passed themselves. New Jersey is a frequent thoroughfare for much of the area, with many populous towns being positioned close to the state's borders. New York City is a very short hop on the PATH Subway to cross over to legal weed territory, and Philadelphia is just a swim across the Delaware River. Meaning both will miss out on a lot if they don't respond quickly with a legalization plan of their own.
You ate horse poop, Philly. Get over yourselves.
According to Leafly's 2020 Cannabis Jobs Report, the marijuana industry has reached 243,700 full-time-equivalent jobs -- a 15% increase from 2019. Its growth year after year is often measured in double digits. The fact that New Jersey can serve as the dealer for Philadelphia and New York City means that jobs that could support their own cities' population will be outsourced to New Jersians instead.
Not only is that going to be a big employment boom for the state, which is undeniably a critical help during the current pandemic impacted economy, but it's going to move revenue out from New York and Pennsylvania. Keeping that cash flow circulating within their own state would do much better in stimulating their cities' local economy than it would letting it flow out into the land of Bruces.
The major part that's really going to hurt each state is the loss local government is going to see from taxes. To be really clear -- California saw $629.3 million in tax revenue in 2019 alone, and Washington, over the course of five blazed years, has seen $1.33 billion in tax revenue.
So odds are looking really good in favor of the East Coast domino-ing into mass legalization. We could even anecdotal look at the speed unto which Washington legalized weed after Oregon had legalized it. The two states see a lot of frequent travel between them, and Washington undoubtedly saw the level of sales and tax revenue that Oregon had and started craving a slice of the pie like they just ripped a bowl.
New Jersey is well aware of all of the possible gains that their state can make as an early adopter. New Jersey Governor, Tom Wolf, has been pressing lawmakers to get the systems in place for legalization due to the need of additional state revenue. But New York likely is not going to let New Jersey beat them to opening shop if they can help it. 2020 was looking like it was going to be a good year for New York to legalize weed, with it looking more and more likely that New York would approve marijuana legalization. But with the pandemic, the focus of lawmakers shifted to responding to that crisis. As the city continues to recover from the impact of the COVID and lawmaker's focus shifts back towards other issues, we may see more legislation surrounding weed getting tossed around.
While we've said much about New York and Pennsylvania, it's important to note that these aren't the only major players in the East Coast story. The governor of Connecticut, Ned Lamont, sponsored a bill for the legalization of cannabis this year. It, too, was disrupted as a result of COVID-19. However, pressures from this wave of legalization in other states is making the 2021 legislative session very promising for Connecticut's citizens.
Mississippi passed legislation legalizing the use of medical marijuana. Considering that Mississippi is a largely conservative state, this came as a shock to many, but maybe it shouldn't have been. Overall, the opinions of Americans at large continue to shift for pro-legalization. According to Pew, two-thirds of Americans now support the legalization of weed. Smoking pot seems to be transforming into less of a partisan issue and more of just the flavor of society.
Perhaps the most emblematic of which has been former GOP speaker of the House, John Boehner, coming out in support of the legalization of recreational marijuana. You might recall that Boehner wrote in a letter to a constituent that he was "unalterably opposed to the legalization of marijuana," but now he could be considered as one of the GOP's strongest advocates. Perhaps the fact that Boehner now sits on the board of Acreage Holdings, a publicly-traded cannabis company based out of New York, helped to make him more open-minded about the potential legalization of weed. While not in the majority opinion of his party, the same Pew study found that 45% of Republicans do support the legalization of marijuana. Perhaps we should give the remaining 55% a stake in legal weed shares so we can see how "unalterable" their opinions are on cannabis as well; I'm sure we'd have federally legal marijuana before the ball drops on this unpredictable year.
So this election has had a huge impact on the recreational legalization of marijuana, but there have also been big strides made in drug decriminalization. Psilocybin mushrooms (the magical kind of shrooms) are now decriminalized in Washington DC, making it the fourth city to decriminalize the psychedelic fungus. Oregon went so far as to not only decriminalize psilocybin but legalize it for medical use. On top of that, Oregon voters decided to decriminalize all drugs.
This is a shift meant to focus more on public health and move away from the failed war on drug era policies that have left a huge impact on our society. In a conversation with Vogue, Kassandra Frederique, the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, stated it best:
"For too long, we've accepted jails and prisons as stand-ins for health services, despite years of data showing us that this approach just furthers the circumstances that lead someone to problematic drug use."
The importance of this is, hopefully, not understated. According to data collected by the FBI, marijuana-related arrests have continued to increase every year, and 2019 was no exception. Much of our police resources are put into fighting and arresting people for nonviolent drug offenses. Plus, that's just a discussion of how we're allocating our police force. The Federal Bureau of Prisons found that 46.2% of inmates were there on drug-related charges. When taking into consideration that the average cost to keep someone locked up is $33,274, this measure is not only creating a more human-first sensibility when it comes to crime and enforcement, but it also saves taxpayers money.
Either way, it'll be incredibly interesting to keep an eye on Oregon. It has much of the same feeling as watching Colorado in 2012 -- that sense of amazement seeing a law pass that you never thought would be, and the anticipation of seeing the outcome of it, as well as the influence it'll have on other states. Hey, maybe we'll see another West Coast crawl of decriminalization, much like we did for marijuana.
While the road to ending the cannabis prohibition has been a long and arduous one, it is, at this point, undoubtedly a reality that we will eventually see. We have been seeing progress on a state level, but we'll likely need more action by our state and federal legislators. Only 23 states allow citizens to propose new state statutes for ballot initiatives. Ultimately, the change will fall on the shoulders of the officials we elect. So whether you realized it or not, you voted for the potential legalization of marijuana on your 2020 ballot -- it just may not have been written down so explicitly.
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