This November, more Americans will vote on the question of legalizing cannabis than ever before. Voters in five states will vote on so-called recreational use, and voters in another four states will vote on medical marijuana. Recreational use is currently legal in four states, and medical use is legal in 25 states. The District of Columbia also has legalized both recreational and medical use.
In state after state, advocates for legalization are raising vastly more cash and are far better organized. In all of the states voting this fall, polls show the legalization side ahead or the vote very close. Though no one expects a clean sweep for legalization this fall, there are signs that many Republicans and other conservatives have given up on their war on cannabis. Even Donald Drumpf has indicated support for medical marijuana and for states setting their own policies on cannabis.
In some states, such as California, there is no broad-based conservative opposition coalition fighting legalization as there has been in the past. That's because there are now as many millennial voters as there are baby boomer voters, and millennial voters are over their parents' prohibitionist policies. A recent Pew Research Center poll showed nearly 80 percent of millennial Democrats and even 66 percent of millennial Republicans support complete legalization of cannabis.
Now that conservative politicians seem to have abandoned the prohibitionist cause, afraid of alienating millennial voters, the only active remaining legalization opponents remaining are those who want to continue to profit from the status quo. Big pharmaceutical companies, alcohol companies, private prison corporations, and police unions are now all the biggest contributors to anti-legalization efforts.
For example, Corrections Corporation of America profits from the government putting cannabis users in prison. It describes itself as "the fifth-largest corrections system in the nation, behind only the federal government and three states." And it is worried that too much freedom to use cannabis will affect its bottom line, writing that "changes with respect to drugs ... could affect (read: reduce) the number of persons arrested, convicted, and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them."
How worried about cannabis legalization is Corrections Corporations of America? So worried that it spends nearly $1 million each year on lobbying efforts. Such intensive lobbying of elected officials shows why all cannabis legalization in the U.S. so far has come directly from voters rather than from elected officials.
And in the legal drug business, for example, Purdue Pharma makes OxyContin, and Abbott Laboratories makes Vicodin. These painkillers kill thousands of Americans each year, and their makers know that if people start to use cannabis to treat pain instead, their profits will decline. That is why these companies give big donations to organizations such as Partnership for Drug-Free Kids and Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America, both of which lobby Congress to keep cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug.
At least for now, it seems legalization advocates still have some well-funded opposition.