It seems like weed is more mainstream than ever. Exactly how popular is it these days?
YOU’RE RIGHT. The popularity of cannabis is at an all-time high, which in turn is pushing law and policy. A recent Gallup Poll survey shows that 60 percent of Americans support the legal use of marijuana. This is the highest percentage of support since Gallup started polling this topic 47 years ago. Perhaps for this reason, social media won’t stop reminding me that weed handily out-polls our presidential candidates.
Americans were not always keen on pot legalization. Cannabis was first prohibited through the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, a racist law that targeted black and Latino migrant workers, but was opposed by the American Medical Association. The effort to battle marijuana reached another low point in the 1970s when Richard Nixon declared a “war on drugs” in order to jail black people and hippies. In those days, few Americans supported legalization and it was largely viewed as a fringe issue.
Eventually, states began pushing back against cannabis prohibition. In 1973, Oregon became the first state to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of weed. But the tide truly started to turn in 1996 when California legalized medical marijuana. Now, 20 years later, Oregon has legalized weed for everyone and California will likely follow next week.
Gallup’s latest poll is timely, considering that around 50 cities and counties in Oregon will also vote this Election Day to determine whether cannabis businesses can operate in their jurisdictions. Lately, I’ve been helping pot merchants snatch up property in some of these places, in anticipation of positive vote. It’s bold and quite impressive.
Note that the locales that stick with prohibition will not receive a share of the state tax revenue from cannabis sales, which should clock in around $43 million this year. Most of the voting locales could use some cash, so several of them are also putting local taxation (up to 3 percent) on the ballot. Expect to see a fair amount of opting in, some new taxes, and then some changes to local rules regarding where and when pot businesses may operate. What I don’t expect to see—especially given the mess the City of Portland has made—are any new regulatory programs at the city or county levels.
With nationwide support at an all-time high, it’s possible that several Oregon cities and counties will embrace legalization. However, voters in some of Oregon’s more conservative areas may determine that the tax revenue does not justify allowing weed to be grown, processed, and sold in their borders. So it goes. These Oregon county and city votes are just one more thing to watch for on November 8.
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