As legal marijuana use blazes the country, political stakes have never been higher

With recreational marijuana use newly legalized in Alaska, Oregon and the District of Columbia, it is time to reevaluate society’s view of marijuana use. Recreational marijuana is now a viable political platform and the future will only see more states legalize recreational marijuana use. Federal laws hold marijuana possession as a misdemeanor. According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, medical marijuana has been legalized in 22 states in the past 18 years. Only two states had legalized the recreational use of marijuana in 2012 and in two years, that number doubled.

Discussions about legalizing recreational marijuana have only recently entered the political sphere, let alone been advocated for or voted on. Along with the rise in legalization, the increase in favorable public opinion is astounding and cannot be ignored by its opponents.

Without a doubt, the elections in 2016 will see even more states legalize recreational marijuana use. The cities of Portland and South Portland, Maine have both become “test communities” for recreational cannabis, and signatures are already being collected for the issue to appear on the 2016 state ballot. Massachusetts, Nevada and Arizona have all started similar campaigns, while Delaware, Rhode Island and New Mexico have each attempted to pass legislation to allow recreational marijuana––only losing by slim margins.

The case for the legalization of recreational marijuana is a strong one. One need not be reminded that while tens of thousands of Americans die each year from alcohol poisoning and hundreds of thousands die as a result of tobacco smoking, there have been no recorded cases of death due to overdose of marijuana.

Many of the arguments against legalized marijuana have been overwhelmingly debunked. Most anti-drug public service announcements rely on the argument that marijuana is a gateway drug to harder drugs like cocaine and heroin. A 2010 study by the University of New Hampshire showed, however, that this is not the case.

While many are worried that the legalization of marijuana would cause more automobile incidents due to people driving while high, this seems to be an unfounded concern. After Colorado legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, highway fatalities for the next year actually reached near-historic lows.

Now that recreational marijuana is becoming a hot topic in state legislation, the fight must focus on protecting those who can legally use it. There has been significant controversy over employees being fired for failing work-administered drug tests in states where marijuana use is legal. Military personnel are prohibited from smoking marijuana in states where it is legalized and cadets are given frequent drug tests to enforce this. Neither of these groups should be punished for participating in a perfectly legal act.

Just as same-sex marriage was also once considered to be politically taboo, recreational marijuana use was once seen as a fringe-group issue. If a politician were to vocally support same-sex marriage less than 20 years ago, it would have been considered political suicide. The same change in opinion is going to take over regarding marijuana use. As the country watches the continued success of states that have legalized recreational marijuana, it will gain popularity and be passed in even more states.