More than two-in-three Americans — and Marylanders — support the legalization of recreational marijuana, the highest point in the past five decades.
Liberals, Americans under 50, and Democrats continue to be the key drivers, but support is slowly growing among groups initially the most resistant: Republicans, older adults, and conservatives. Statewide polling shows similar trends, and overall support will only continue to rise as Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z make up larger shares of the total adult population.
State laws are catching up to the public sentiment.
In the last 12 months, voters in four states—Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota—approved ballot measures in November giving their respective states the power to establish legal systems of marijuana production and sales for adults. Each state is now in various stages of implementation except for South Dakota, where the will of the voters is being challenged in court.
Just this past month, Virginia became the first southern state to legalize adult-use marijuana after Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam signed a party-line bill into law. Fifteen states, including the District of Columbia, have now authorized legalization since Colorado and Washington first approved adult-use recreational marijuana in 2012.
The Goucher College Poll has measured attitudes toward the legalization of marijuana in Maryland since 2013. Reflecting national trends, support has grown from a narrow majority to now more than two-thirds in favor on the most recent poll. More than three-quarters of progressives, residents under 35, and Democrats all support legalization. And for the first time, legalization in Maryland has majority support from Republicans, residents over 55, and conservatives.
Maryland has made progress on marijuana policy over the last decade. The state has established a medicinal marijuana program, although there have been significant hiccups in its implementation, and has decriminalized the possession of fewer than 10 grams and marijuana paraphernalia. All efforts to legalize recreational use have failed.
But the significant public support, budgetary pressures due to Covid-19, and Virginia and New Jersey now actively developing the groundwork for their cannabis economy could be the push lawmakers need to advance legalization this session.
While bills sponsored by Del. Jazz Lewis, a Prince George’s County Democrat, and Sen. Brian Feldman, a Montgomery County Democrat, have some differences, they both aim to legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana for adults 21 and older. The legislation boasts powerful allies in legislative leadership.
Politically for Gov. Hogan, rumored to be eyeing a presidential run in 2024, signing a recreational cannabis bill into law would appeal to a younger generation of Republican voters who support legalization.
It’s worth noting that the governor vetoed the decriminalization bill passed by the Maryland General Assembly in 2016, signed a bill to legalize edible medical-marijuana products in 2019, and has hedged on a definitive stance toward legalization.
Legalizing recreational cannabis isn’t just politically popular. It’s a chance to generate hundreds of millions in tax revenue, produce jobs, and potentially foster the creation of new minority-owned businesses. Most importantly, it could eliminate the disproportionate impact Maryland’s current laws have on Black Marylanders and other racial minorities, who are far more likely to be arrested on marijuana-related charges than their white counterparts.
National trends and statewide public opinion suggest that it’s no longer a question of whether legal recreational cannabis is coming to Maryland. It’s now just a matter of when and how much racial justice and revenue lawmakers are willing to give up in the meantime.
Jibril Howard and Steven Van Riper are juniors and political science majors at Goucher College.
Wow I didn’t realize weed now has majority support among democrats AND republicans… really no excuse not to legalize it at this point if you ask me. Terrific article
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