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Why The 2016 Election Was A Coming-Out Party For Cannabis

Last Tuesday was an unprecedented triumph for cannabis reform as eight states legalized recreational or medical marijuana. The people least surprised by this success were the ones who have been fighting for legalization all these years. People like Paul Armentano, Deputy Director of the National Organization for Reforming Marijuana Laws (NORML).

"The reality is that marijuana policy reform is not a fringe or minority position among American voters," he told Civilized.

"It is a mainstream position. It is the position held by the majority of voters. So, not surprisingly, when voters have the opportunity to have a direct impact on marijuana policy, they typically elect to do so."

And they do it with gusto. On Tuesday, the number of legal recreational states doubled from four to eight as California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada joined the ranks of Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska and the District of Columbia. On the same night, Florida, Arkansas and North Dakota legalized medical marijuana, bringing the total number of states to legalize medicinal cannabis use up to 29 - nearly 60 percent of the country.

"Well over half of the country now resides in jurisdictions where the medical use of marijuana is recognized and authorized by statute," Armentano noted. "We also now have over 50 million Americans or a little more than 20 percent of the country living in states where the adult use of marijuana is legal. And where commercial production and retail sale is legal. Again, this isn't a fringe issue. This is an issue where the majority of Americans are onboard. And in a significant number of jurisdictions we now have laws that are entirely contradictory to federal law and federal prohibition."

The only state to vote against legalizing recreational marijuana last week was Arizona, where the initiative lost by just under 80,000 votes. In the other states, the issue received strong support across demographics and political divisions.

"Voters of all ages and all political ideologies tend to come together and find consensus on this issue," Armentano said. "If you look at the breakdown of the states that enacted these reforms on Election Day, you see that the voter support for the regulation of marijuana passed handily in red states and it passed handily in blue states."

"While there may be a sharp partisan divide among elected officials with regard to the issue of marijuana policy reform, there is very little partisan divide among their constituents," said Armentano.

So marijuana is not only a mainstream issue but a bipartisan one as well. And that's heartening given that major media outlets like The Washington Post are saying that the country is more divided now and than ever after President-Elect Donald Trump's surprise victory on election night.

Will Washington step forward and lead?

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That means one of the few groups that are still opposed to marijuana reform are the politicians upholding federal marijuana prohibition in America.

"It is clear that the voters are leading this train," Armentano said. "It is unclear as to when their federally elected officials are going to follow."

But maybe the landslide victory for legalization on Election Day will be enough to get them onboard with reform.

Banner image: Pro-legalization supporters in San Diego celebrate the passage of Proposition 64 on Election Night. (Sebastian Montes photo)


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