A decade ago, marijuana was illegal to vape, smoke, or eat recreationally. Today, nearly half of Americans cab do so or will be able to soon: Voters approved legalization ballot measures this month in Maryland and Missouri, bringing the number of states allowing any adult use to 21. Legalization may not make major news often anymore, but it’s a big deal, reports the New York Times. It amounts to the nation's largest change to its drug policy in decades. By aligning marijuana with alcohol and tobacco, rather than harder drugs, the policy change is giving birth to a new industry. It has the potential to reduce the hundreds of thousands of marijuana arrests made in the U.S. every year, freeing police resources. The change came about largely because of the support of voters, not politicians or lawmakers. While the public backs legalization, some prominent political leaders do not: President Biden has said he’s opposed. Donald Trump has characterized legalization as an issue for states to decide, but his 2020 presidential campaign said marijuana should remain illegal. A key reason for marijuana legalization’s success is its popularity. . About 68 percent of adults in the U.S. support legalization, a Gallup survey found last week. Even a majority of Republicans, who are typically more conservative on the issue, told Gallup that they support legalization. The shift toward support empowered legalization campaigns around the U.S. The 21 states that have legalized it have done so only since 2012, starting with Colorado and Washington. Three of those states reliably vote Republican: Alaska, Montana and Missouri. Advocates credit legalization to several issues. Much of the public now sees the broader war on drugs as a costly failure. Marijuana, widely viewed as less dangerous than alcohol, is an accessible target for policy changes. States’ experiments with medical marijuana, starting in the 1990s, helped make Americans more comfortable with loosening access. The internet has made it easier for a grass-roots legalization movement to spread. Some leading lawmakers have not followed the shift in public opinion. Biden has said he opposes jailing marijuana users and pardoned thousands of people convicted of marijuana possession under federal law. He also opposes legalization, putting him at odds with more than 80 percent of Democrats. Lawmakers’ opposition has led activists to rely largely on voter support to enact legalization. Of the 21 states where recreational marijuana is or will soon be legal, 14 approved the change through ballot measures.
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