One In Four Americans Could Live In Legal Weed States After Tuesday

This election has been nasty, long, and disheartening. But it could also be a great day for weed

Illustration: Tara Jacoby
Nov 07, 2016 at 3:23 PM ET

Tuesday’s elections could spell doomsday for American democracy. Luckily, the day could also bring sweet relief to millions plunged into existential malaise.

Recreational marijuana stands to become legal for as much as 25 percent of the country’s population after November 8, taking the long-building legalization movement and turning it into an irreversible political force.

In a recent interview with Bill Maher, President Obama noted that — especially if the entire west coast legalizes marijuana — the patchwork of legal and non-legal states will likely prompt a national conversation. “I don’t think legalization is a panacea but I think that we’re going to need to have a more serious conversation about how we’re treating marijuana and our drug laws generally,” he said.

Late polls show that California and Massachusetts voters are poised to approve ballot measures that will make weed legal for adults in those states. Three other states — Arizona, Maine, and Nevada — will also decide whether to enact similar initiatives, though these races remain too close to call. Regardless of the outcome, the stigma is already lifting nationwide: a record 60 percent of Americans now back legal adult use, according to a recent Gallup survey. 

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Experts say that this surge of support could prove a tipping point for America’s most popular illicit drug, which the feds still classify as a Schedule 1 substance alongside heroin and LSD. Even Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader, is casting a ballot for cannabis legalization in her home state of California.

“I will vote for it, but I have not made a public statement about it until right this very second,” Pelosi, who represents the district that serves San Francisco, told the Los Angeles Times last week. 

Four states — Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska — as well as the District of Columbia have already legalized the drug for recreational use. Meanwhile, medical marijuana is now legal in 25 states as well as D.C., a figure that could grow as voters in Arkansas, Florida, Montana, and North Dakota eye medical marijuana legalization on Tuesday. A recent analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 7,000 Americans now try weed for the first time every day.

The cultural transformation brought on by relaxed laws and attitudes toward marijuana in the U.S. has already been profound. Sitcom characters smoke weed on network television shows. Hundreds of YouTube channels, blogs, Twitter handles, and Instagram pages celebrate the marijuana and the lifestyle that surrounds it. Even the New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd has written about getting extremely stoned in the paper of record.

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Legal marijuana has also become the fastest growing market in America, according to ArcView, a market research firm. The $7.2 billion industry for medical and recreational marijuana in the U.S. could hit $23 billion in sales by 2020, the ArcView estimates. Another way to look at ganja’s economic growth spurt? It’s on pace to be a bigger industry than the National Football League within 30 years.

States that have already given the green light to recreational marijuana are beginning to see the results. In Colorado, the industry created 18,000 jobs and generated $2.3 billion in economic activity in 2015 alone, the Denver Post reported last month. The state also collected more than $135 million in taxes and fees from marijuana sales that year.

Imagine what those jobs and a tax revenue figures might look like in California, whose 38.8 million people is more than seven times the size of Colorado’s 5.3 million residents. After Tuesday, you’ll likely not have to wait long.