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DENVER, CO – SEPTEMBER 10: Governor John Hickenlooper is seen during a marijuana budget meeting in his office in between daily meetings in the state capitol in Denver, CO on September 10, 2014. (Photo By Helen H. Richardson/ The Denver Post)

legalization | 01.01.2022

Why politicians don’t support legal weed when most Americans do

For the first time, a majority of Republicans and Democrats want prohibition to end.

In 2018, weed, of all things, could be the issue that our country agrees on most. Americans are more divided along party lines than ever, but, for the first time, a majority of people on both sides of the aisle believe that cannabis prohibition should end.

According to a Gallup poll, a record high number of Americans—64 percent, almost two thirds— now favor marijuana legalization. Even a majority of Republicans— at 51 percent—are onboard. Meanwhile, 72 percent of Democrats and 67 percent of independents agree. That means cannabis is one of the least controversial issues these days.

That’s a far cry from the first time Gallup asked about marijuana legalization back in 1969. That year, only 12 percent of Americans were in favor of legal weed.

Will Politicians Join Voters This Year?

It’s clear why politicians have such a rough time with polarizing issues such as abortion, gun control, and healthcare. Liberals and conservatives are so far apart on these issues, they sometimes have trouble remaining in the same room.

But despite the broad appeal of weed among Americans, it’s still only recreationally legal in eight states and D.C. And in every state where it’s been legalized so far, it’s been done by voters who got it on the ballot rather than through the legislature. Vermont might be the first state to change that in January.

How Strongly Do You Feel?

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Hundreds of pro-cannabis demonstrators march May 4, 2002 in New York City. The marchers, who advocate for the legalization of cannabis, were part of almost 200 similar events planned around the world May 4 under the name of the ‘Million Marijuana March’. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

If so many people are okay with marijuana legalization, why have politicians been slow to act? Well, many voters just don’t seem to think cannabis reform is a priority. They haven’t made it what’s called a “wedge issue,” or one that changes votes at the ballot box.

Just 31 percent of Americans “strongly” favored legalization in a 2016 PRRI poll, despite 63 percent favoring the idea overall.

Cannabis ballot measures don’t seem to increase turnout among younger voters, according to FiveThirtyEightThat means that the voting demographic which is most likely to favor legalization isn’t any more likely to show up to vote when that issue is on the ballot.

Politicians typically have to perceive an issue as one over which they could gain—or lose—votes before they act.

And Then There’s Money…

Cannabis-positive organizations are no match for corporate America when it comes to campaign donations.

Which sectors of “corporate America” are dead set against legalization? That would be Big Pharma (the deep-pocketed corporate pharmaceutical giants); the corrections industry (private prisons still incarcerate people for cannabis offenses); and, to a lesser extent, the alcohol industry (which records show has worked actively against legalization measures in states like Arizona).

So is the answer getting money out of politics, or getting cannabis money into politics? While the short-term solution is probably the latter, a better, long-term solution is certainly the former. Once voters count more than corporations, cannabis legalization will happen, and quickly.

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