The majority of Americans now believe that cannabis should once again be legal. Anti-cannabis propagandists will throw up every obstacle that they can, but legalization in Washington, Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and D.C. were big steps in honoring the democratic will of the people. These places provide an early look at what the end of prohibition might resemble, and the best example is Colorado, which was arguably the most proactive since repealing statewide prohibition in 2012. The early data from the first few years appears very positive and suggests the need to ask a different question. Instead of asking if cannabis should be legal, people should ask, why isn’t it legal already?
Prohibition Ruins Lives
In 2012, Colorado citizens voted to repeal cannabis prohibition with Amendment 64, and the early results have been promising. Violent crime decreased by a modest two percent, and the state saved tens of millions with 84 percent fewer arrests for cannabis possession. The plummeting arrest rate also means fewer people are having their lives ruined—jail time, criminal records, legal costs—from non-violent cannabis offenses. Despite expectations to the contrary, traffic accidents in the state even declined. Ending prohibition also helped protect the Centennial State from civil forfeiture, an unjust law enforcement strategy to seize possessions without convicting or even charging people with a crime. The so-called “police for profit” seizures allow law enforcement to take computers, televisions and even homes from people they merely allege committed a drug crime, and the officers commonly get to keep or sell the items and retain a portion of the proceeds. While legalization might not be good for private prison lobbyists, it certainly helped countless people in Colorado whose lives might have otherwise been ruined by prohibition.
Less Spending, More Revenue
For the fiscal year June 2014 to June 2015, Colorado collected $70 million in new tax revenue that primarily went to schools. Tax revenue is not, however, the only financial benefit to the state. The dramatic decrease in cannabis arrests saved millions in spending, and the lack of arrests contributed to greater involvement in the local workforce. Speaking of employment, legalization also introduced tens of thousands of new jobs, most of which paid more than $17 per hour. Colorado also benefits from a booming cannabis tourism industry that other states are now trying to emulate. The new businesses and jobs further contributed to the economy by increasing overall consumer spending and decreasing the need for unemployment assistance. For Colorado, repealing prohibition meant increased revenue and decreased spending for a much stronger state economy.
America Wants Legal Cannabis
Gallup, an American research company famous for polling, found that 58 percent of Americans want to see cannabis legalized in its 2015 national poll. This marks a 10-point increase since 2012, and a nearly twofold increase since 2000, with the latter surge marking the largest proportional gain of any 15-year period. By comparison, when the pollsters first asked this question in 1969, only 12 percent favored legalization. Among the many contributing factors to the upswing, the impact of full legalization in states like Colorado gives the impression that the benefits of ending prohibition overwhelmingly outweigh the potential risks.
Who are the people still opposed? According to Gallup, the divide largely lines up according to age and political party identification. Democrats, independents and younger Americans are much more likely to support cannabis legalization, while Republicans and older Americans are more likely to oppose it. Still, in the 18- to 34-year-old demographic, 71 percent of respondents support legalization, and many of them are young Republicans. Likewise, support among senior citizens has increased ninefold since 1969.