Recreational Marijuana Legalization: Where Are We Today?

Recreational marijuana legalization was up for a vote in five states during the 2016 Election. Four out of five of those states passed the legalization propositions, Arizona being the only state to reject the adult use initiative. California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada all agreed that the time for prohibition has passed, voting yes for the recreational use of marijuana. These states joined five others (Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Colorado, and Washington, DC) to total nine states in the U.S. where the recreational use of marijuana for adults over the age of 21 is completely legal.

There are currently 25 states that allow the use of marijuana for medical necessity: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia. More than half of the sum of the United States has now legalized marijuana in one way or another, yet the Federal Government has still failed to see eye to eye with the states on legalization. Though there are hundreds of other plants approved for medicinal uses, cannabis has stood out in controversy for nearly a hundred years.

Arguments for recreational marijuana legalization

Enforcing marijuana prohibition is an astronomical cost to the United States each year cannabis remains illegal. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) found that drug arrest across the country leans strongly towards marijuana. In 2010, 52 percent of all arrests for drug offenses were for possession of marijuana. Among a total 8.2 million marijuana-related charges filed between 2001-2010, 88 percent of those were for simple possession.

ACLU Representative
[Image by Elaine Thompson/AP Images]

On a side note, the ACLU also found that marijuana arrests are heavily skewed towards African Americans. African Americans' chance of being arrested for marijuana in the U.S. is almost four times higher than that of Caucasians, even though usage among both is nearly the same.

Also, per early studies conducted in the legal state, Colorado, underage usage has not increased. The percentage of teens that have smoked marijuana has decreased by about five percent since recreational marijuana legalization in 2012.

Arguments against recreational marijuana legalization

A high percentage of the U.S. population harbors a certain amount of fear regarding recreational marijuana legalization and usage. For years, government scare tactics have engraved images of loss and defeat into the minds of children whenever marijuana is presented. This regular and widespread conditioning will not easily be reversed.

Opponents of the cause typically argue that a study released in the Journal of the American Medical Association, in 1996, proves that marijuana usage can be detrimental to brain function. The study's findings were not even conclusive as to whether the effect was a direct result of marijuana usage.

Another popular resistance to recreational marijuana legalization is that marijuana has been found to impair a person's ability to drive. It was found to "significantly impair judgment, motor coordination, and reaction time" while operating a vehicle. However, more recent studies by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that the presence of cannabis in a driver's blood screen did not increase the risk of collision while operating a motor vehicle.

Donald Trump's pick for Attorney General

Jeff Sessions
[Image by Carolyn Kaster/AP Images]

Donald Trump's choice for the nation's next Attorney General is a man by the name of Jefferson Beauregard Sessions II. He is 70-years-old and has a long history of resistance against anything related to the legalization of marijuana. He has even been widely quoted saying that he thought the Ku Klux Klan "were okay until I found out they smoked pot… good people don't smoke pot." Sessions could pose a very real danger to years of hard-won progress towards recreational marijuana legalization in the United States.

[Featured Image by Robert F. Bukaty/AP Images]