Support for legalizing marijuana for recreational use has been growing in recent years in the United States. However, the momentum for greater recreational use of the drug may have been slowed by the decision Thursday by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to rescind several Obama-era orders that discouraged enforcement of federal marijuana laws in states that had legalized the substance.
In a memo sent to U.S. attorneys, Sessions said “prosecutors should follow the well-established principles that govern all federal prosecutions. These principles require federal prosecutors deciding which cases to prosecute to weigh all relevant considerations of the crime, the deterrent effect of criminal prosecution, and the cumulative impact of particular crimes on the community.”
Sessions action potentially allows the federal government to crack down on the burgeoning pot industry. Sessions, who considers marijuana a dangerous substance, said prosecutors should use their discretion — factoring in the Justice Department’s limited resources, the seriousness of the crime, and the deterrent effect that they could impose — in considering if charges were appropriate.
The decision by the attorney general comes at a time when a record high 64% of Americans support legalizing marijuana for recreational use, according to a 2017 Gallup Poll. Support for legalization is rooted in changing perceptions of the drug’s potential harm, as well as the prospect of hundreds of millions of dollars in marijuana sales and excise tax revenue for state governments.
The growing acceptance of marijuana among Americans has also been reflected in the ballot box. Currently, eight states and Washington D.C. have legalized recreational marijuana. Pro-pot initiatives passed in eight of the nine states in which they made it to the ballot in November 2016. Voters in Arkansas, Florida, Montana and North Dakota approved or expanded medical marijuana laws in their states. In Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada and California, voters approved recreational pot. Only Arizona’s push for full legalization failed.
All four states that legalized recreational marijuana in 2016 made 24/7 Wall St.’s list of the next states to legalize pot that same year.
Despite widespread acceptance of the drug, only about 21% of the U.S. population live in states or districts that have legalized recreational pot. In all likelihood, the share will only grow in the coming years.
Though every state to legalize pot so far has done so through ballot initiatives, going forward, states have a variety of options for making pot legal. Predicting which states will be next to legalize requires weighing a range of legal circumstances and cultural conditions. 24/7 Wall St. reviewed marijuana usage rates, existing marijuana laws, and legislative processes in each state to identify the states most likely to legalize pot next.