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Opinion | Why It's time to legalize cannabis for all Americans

Voters nationwide resoundingly said “yes” to legalizing medical cannabis, adult-use cannabis or both on the Nov. 3 ballot, demonstrating a growing movement of Americans demanding access to safe, high-quality and regulated cannabis.

With the new laws passed in five new states — New Jersey, Arizona, South Dakota, Montana and Mississippi — more than one-third of the U.S. population, including Michigan, now has access to legal cannabis.

Continued voter approval of cannabis also signifies an intensifying chorus nationwide supporting federal legalization. 

Michael Elias

Yet cannabis possession, sale and cultivation violate federal law. Convictions carry penalties of up to three years in prison for possession, and 10 years to life in prison for sale or cultivation. Fines for the offenses range from $1,000 to $1 million. While the federal government has relaxed enforcement of these penalties to varying degrees in recent years, they create a looming threat that contributes to legal and economic uncertainty for all Americans.

 I can tell you firsthand access to legal cannabis provides numerous wellness and economic benefits. The 35 states that have legalized medical cannabis and 15 states that have legalized adult-use cannabis continue to experience these benefits in the form of new tax revenues and job creation, and in some cases reductions in criminal activity.

Based on success in other states, Michigan’s cannabis industry will likely continue to be a major economic boost for the Great Lakes State.

Just one year after taking effect, it’s estimated Michigan’s adult-use cannabis market once fully matured will generate $3 billion in retail sales and create about 24,000 total jobs annually. By comparison, Colorado’s adult-use industry, approved by voters in 2012, generates about $2 billion in retail sales and creates about 40,000 jobs annually, according to Colorado Department of Revenue data.   

Michigan is also leading  the way in promoting participation in the cannabis industry, including in communities disproportionately impacted by marijuana prohibition and enforcement. The state’s adult-use cannabis law created a Social Equity program encouraging entrepreneurship in these primarily minority communities.  

Michigan isn’t alone. The cannabis industry currently supports nearly 250,000 full-time jobs nationwide that generate new tax revenue for education, police, fire and other essential services we rely on every day. Those benefits would grow exponentially with federal legalization, which could result in 1.6 million new jobs and $128.8 billion in tax revenue nationwide, a recent study found. 

On a national scale, these economic and social justice benefits of cannabis legalization would benefit all American families and communities.

Voters across the country continue to take the lead on this critical issue. Now it’s time for policymakers to listen to the will of the people and legalize cannabis for all Americans.

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