Congressional elections crucial for future of marijuana policies

Congressional elections are arguably more important than the presidential election this year. With a total of 469 seats in the United States Congress available to change party power, it marks an incredibly powerful political moment. This election could mean a retaking of Congress for the Democratic party or it could continue to hold with a Republican majority. Despite the intense focus on the president, many issues important to Americans fall in the hands of Congress. If voters wish for their elected officials to represent them on current issues, more emphasis needs to be on the Congressional elections. One issue that remains of high priority in many Americans’ eyes––especially among young voters like us––is the legalization of marijuana and the national end to the War on Drugs.

While medical marijuana is currently legal in 25 states, only a few have successfully made recreational use of marijuana legal. Colorado, Alaska, Oregon and Washington have made the jump to legalize recreational marijuana use and are under continuous scrutiny from other state governments. Voters in California, Massachusetts and Nevada, however, have also decided that recreational marijuana use should be legal. The official results for both Maine and Arizona have yet to come in, too.

Colorado has shown voters the economic benefits of opening up to this new industry as the state created more than 18,000 full-time jobs and generated nearly $2.4 billion in revenue, according to the Marijuana Policy Group. MPG also noted that Colorado’s second-largest excise revenue source was cannabis sales at $121 million—raising more than three times the amount than alcohol tax revenue.

Today, these findings greatly impacted the decisions of voters in California, Massachusetts, Maine, Arizona and Nevada, who had the legalization of recreational use on their ballots on Nov. 8. All of these states have regulations if the drug becomes legal—only those 21 years or older can purchase a certain amount at once. In addition, some states have legal boundaries between purchases and schools and, of course, an excise tax on the drug. This begs us to ask how other states are moving toward or against legalization.

The bottom line is that states must move slowly on the issue. The Drug Policy Alliance states, “Marijuana should be removed from the criminal justice system and regulated like tobacco and alcohol,” yet they are met with little support from government agencies. Marijuana has been federally illegalized since 1937, largely due to the efforts of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst and Federal Bureau of Narcotics Commissioner Harry J. Anslinger, who were propelled by personal, racial and economic motivations.

Essentially, the pair saw marijuana as an economic threat, as did the Dupont industry—the patent owners of nylon—and all three made it their effort to illegalize this perceived threat.

Unfortunately for American voters today, this illegalization has remained for decades, despite numerous studies that show that this illegalization and the “War on Drugs” is nothing but a costly, fear-inducing failure.

Gallup Polls released an August poll that showed that the number of adults who smoked marijuana has almost doubled in the past three years. In addition, the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use showed that marijuana is the number one used illicit drug.

The power to shape the future of marijuana in this nation remains in the hands of voters. This election cycle can be pivotal for progressing the legalization of marijuana and moving it toward reasonable regulation or legalization.

With the power of the voters, maybe the failed War on Drugs can finally come to a close.