The legalization of same-sex marriage is reflective of a theme that is clearly evident in our history and related to the expansion of individual rights. In 1996, same sex marriage was prohibited in every state and only 27% of Americans said they supported same-sex marriage. In 1995, marijuana was illegal in every state and only 25% of the public supported legalization.
In some ways, the issue of marijuana legalization is similar to that of same-sex marriage as both involve the freedom for one to live as an individual as long as it does not harm others. Both issues also saw support increase rapidly after a certain trigger event. The trigger event for same- sex marriage was in 2004 when Massachusetts ended its ban on same-sex marriage. The trigger even for marijuana was in 2012 when Colorado and Washington State legalized recreational marijuana.
The legalization of same-sex marriage
In less than 15 years, same-sex marriage went from being prohibited in every state to legal in every state. In 2004, Massachusetts became the first state to allow same-sex couples to get married after the state’s Supreme Court ruled that the ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. Over the next six years, three more states legalized same sex marriage.
In 2013, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the federal government must recognize same-sex marriages performed in states where it is legal. After that ruling, same-sex marriage became legal in 28 more states, many after state and federal court decisions lifted bans. On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court extended marriage rights to same-sex couples nationwide.
Recreational marijuana on a similar trajectory
Recreational marijuana looks like it is going to be the next big social issue to head down a similar path and it is already starting to happen. Currently, 24 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana and three states have legalized recreational marijuana.
For the first time ever, the Gallup poll and the General Social Survey found that a majority of the public favors the legalization of marijuana. These results show a dramatic change in the public’s view of marijuana over the last two decades.
The 2016 presidential election is roughly 18 months away and we can already see that marijuana will be one of the defining issues that will decide who will be the next president. A number of critical swing states have legalized some form of marijuana and a candidate’s stance on marijuana could impact the outcome in these states. The presence of a marijuana initiative on any state ballot will also result in a significant increase in voter turnout.
A global revolution
The marijuana revolution is not just taking place in the United States. We are seeing marijuana reform all around the world. Earlier this year, Puerto Rico Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla signed an executive order to legalize medical marijuana. In 2014, Uruguay legalized both medical and recreational marijuana. Israel, Canada, and the Netherlands all have legal medical marijuana programs. Portugal and a number of other countries have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana.
The marijuana industry has made significant strides over the last two years and this trend is expected to continue for quite some time.