If you want a snapshot of just how much progress the marijuana legalization movement has made, check out this stat from New Frontier Data. In a recent press release, the analytics company said that 95 percent of the U.S. population lives in a state that allows some form of legal access to cannabis -- whether that be recreational cannabis, medical marijuana or just CBD (a non-psychoactive cannabis extract).
On top of that, 69 million Americans -- over 20 percent of the country's total population -- live in one of the 8 states that have legalized recreational use.
These numbers capture how much has changed in the country since California became the first state to permit medical marijuana in 1996. But the new stats also offer a snapshot of how out-of-touch the federal government is when it comes to cannabis. Even though the vast majority of states allow some form of medicinal marijuana use, the federal government still defines cannabis as a dangerous drug that has no medical value and is as harmful as heroin.
That means 95 percent of America's population is living in a legal gray area. And their home states could be raided by the DEA if Attorney General Jeff Sessions - an outspoken opponent of legalization - decides to crack down on cannabis. So far, there have been conflicting reports on whether he will or he will not go after legal states.
But we do know for certain that a crackdown would be disastrous for everyone living in those legal states -- whether they consume marijuana or not. According to New Frontier, the recreational market will make approximately $3.4 billion in revenue in 2017 alone. And it's projected to bring in $8.6 billion in revenue by 2020. So rolling back those laws would be an economic disaster for those 8 states, which include California as well as Colorado, Massachusetts and Alaska.
And the financial repercussions of that crackdown could be felt by the country as a whole.
But there is hope that the laws could change. Last week, Congressman Thomas Garrett (R-Virginia) introduced a bill that would essentially end federal cannabis prohibition and allow each state to decide its own cannabis laws. It's not the first bill of its kind. A strikingly similar bill was introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) in November 2015, but it didn't go anywhere.
However, the legalization movement has made huge gains since then. In 2016, states like Florida legalized medical marijuana while California and three other states approved recreational cannabis legalization. That means states with medical or recreational marijuana legalization now hold a majority of seats in both chambers of Congress: 276 Representatives and 58 Senators.
On top of that, a Quinnipiac Poll released last month found that 71 percent of Americans don't want the federal government to enforce marijuana laws in the legal states. So the people have made themselves clear on the issue. Now it's up to their federal representatives to listen.