While Democrats and Republicans went toe-to-toe for control of Congress, voters across three states voted to relax marijuana laws, resulting in a huge victory for the grassroots decriminalization and legalization movement.
With medical marijuana already legal in Michigan for several years, voters passed a ballot proposal on Tuesday to legalize recreational marijuana possession with 55 percent in favor of the measure. The measure made Michigan the first Midwestern state, and the tenth state within the U.S., to legalize recreational cannabis.
Efforts in Michigan paid off thanks to a group called Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. Although the measure passed by a relatively wide margin, legalization faced stiff opposition from a group known as Healthy and Productive Michigan which seeks to push local municipalities to prohibit sales by focusing on the federal ban on cannabis.
The new laws, which are set to take effect in roughly ten days, allow Michigan residents 21 and over to possess, use, buy, and grow marijuana. The next step in terms of organizational efforts will focus on expunging the criminal records of anyone with non-violent marijuana possession charges. Between 20,000 and 24,550 people are arrested on marijuana-related charges in Michigan each year, with charges disproportionately targeting young black males.
Missouri and surprisingly Utah also passed cannabis-friendly ballot measures on Tuesday.
Missouri residents endorsed Amendment 2, which favors the cultivation of medical marijuana which would result in a 4% tax on all transactions. Unlike Michigan, Missouri faced relatively no opposition.
Key legislators in Utah reportedly planned to pass medical marijuana legislation regardless of Tuesday’s results thanks to overwhelming support from the Mormon church.
Unfortunately, North Dakota’s Measure 3 didn’t win over enough voters to pass, with nearly 60% voting against legalization legislation similar to Michigan’s. Measure 3 also would have expunged the records of citizens charged with non-violent marijuana offenses.
Who’s Behind the Push to Keep Marijuana Illegal?
Many industries have a vast financial interest in keeping marijuana prohibition laws on the books including pharmaceutical giants, alcohol lobbies, casinos, and the prison-industrial complex.
In Arizona, drug manufacturer Insys forked over $500,000 to a group advocating against legalization. Insys had recently gained FDA approval for a synthetic cannabinoid called Dronabinol and grew concerned that legalization efforts would damage its commercial success.
In Massachusetts, pro-legalization efforts face stiff competition from the alcohol lobby, which invested $75,000 to keep cannabis illegal in 2016.
Prison suppliers also worry that legalization could hurt their bottom line. Companies that supply correctional facilities with meals, consumer goods, phone access, clothes, and other items rely on non-violent crimes to keep jails and prisons overcapacity and boost profits.
Proponents of marijuana legalization and decriminalization argue that accessibility could reduce patient reliance on addictive opioids. To put things into perspective, 115 people die each day from opioid overdose.
Meanwhile, 88,000 people die from alcohol-related deaths in the United States each year, making alcohol consumption the third leading preventable cause of death in the country. More than 15 million Americans suffer from alcohol use disorder.
Despite its widespread abuse and danger, alcohol’s legality faces virtually no opposition from lobbying groups in the same way marijuana does. Indeed, profits seem to always outweigh safety and public health.
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