Various moral and practical arguments have helped to catalyze the growing trend of legalization and decriminalization of marijuana. The potential tax revenue, job creation, and reduction of the burden of offenders on state prison systems, for example, have likely been a motivating factor behind the bills to regulate and legalize the drug in many of the states on our list. In an interview with 24/7 Wall St., Allen St. Pierre, executive director at the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), argued that legalizing marijuana “would generate revenue where we now hemorrhage out billions and billions of dollars.”
However, according to Morgan Fox, communications manager at the Marijuana Policy Project, the most significant force in getting bills and referendums on the table is public support within the states. In most of the 11 states that may soon legalize marijuana, recent polls have been conducted showing a majority of residents support some form of legalization. In Connecticut, 63% of those surveyed in a March 2015 Quinnipiac University poll said they were in favor of legalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana for adults.
St. Pierre argued that the current prohibition laws are inconsistent. “If alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, and pharmaceutical products can be legally sold to adults in this country, it’s hard to understand the constitutional economic or for that matter moral arguments put forward on why marijuana can’t be within that same ambit of choices for adults.”
One factor that may be driving high public support for legalization in these states is the a high number of users. Of the 11 states that appear next in line to legalize marijuana, nine surpass the nationwide rate of marijuana users. In 2012 and 2013, an estimated average of 12.3% of Americans 12 and older smoked marijuana. In Rhode Island, one of the states on our list, more than 20% had.
St. Pierre also noted that the marijuana legalization issue is unique in that Americans’ political persuasions favor legalization of marijuana. Support for reform can be found among liberals, but also among conservatives, particularly those with libertarian-leaning beliefs. “It’s hard to make an argument against legalization in a free-market society such as ours,” said St. Pierre.
Still, according to Gallup, less than one-third of conservative Americans think cannabis should be legalized, in contrast with overwhelmingly strong support from liberals and a strong majority of moderates. Nearly all of the next states expected to legalize marijuana are liberal-leaning states.
To identify the next states to legalize marijuana, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed states where possession of small amounts of marijuana is not punishable by jail and also where medical marijuana is currently legal based on data from The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). We also considered marijuana-related arrests per 100,000 residents through 2012 provided by the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report. In addition, we considered the estimated proportion of residents 12 and older who had used marijuana some time in the past year, based on annualized data from 2012 and 2013, from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Public opinion polls were provided by the Marijuana Policy Project based on the most recent available survey. All data on current enforcement policies and penalties were provided by NORML.
These are the states where marijuana is most likely to be legalized.
> Max. fine for small amount: $100
> Marijuana related arrests in 2012: 2,596
> Marijuana arrests per 100,000: 39
> Minimum penalty classification : Civil offense
Under Massachusetts’ state law, an individual can only be fined a maximum of $100 for possession an ounce or less of marijuana — the result of a 2008 ballot to decriminalize possession of small amounts of the drug. The impact of decriminalization has been dramatic. While there were more than 10,000 marijuana-related arrests in 2008, there was just about a third as many such arrests in 2009, the first year the law took effect.
Though the state’s marijuana policy is relatively progressive, it appears that decriminalization has not gone far enough for the majority of voters. In a poll released last year by the Boston Herald, 53% of state residents were in favor of legalizing marijuana, while only 37% were against. Proponents of legalization may have a chance to change the state law again in November 2016. Democratic State Representative Dave Rogers and Democratic State Senator Patricia Jehlen introduced a bill to to legalize recreational marijuana use for adults.