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Americans’ attitudes about marijuana have undergone a rapid shift over recent years. A recent survey found that many more Americans now favor marijuana and shifting the focus of the nation’s overall drug policy. Here are 6 facts about marijuana and public opinion in the U.S.:

1. Support for marijuana legalization is quickly outpacing the opposition. A majority (52%) of Americans say marijuana should be made legal, compared with 45% who want it to remain illegal. In 1969, a Gallup pole revealed that just 12% favored legalizing marijuana use. Between 2010 and 2013 support for marijuana legalization rose 11 points. 76% of people surveyed said people convicted of minor marijuana possession should not serve time in jail.

2. Not everyone supports legalization. 31% of Republicans do. Most whites and blacks say marijuana should be legalized, while only 39% of Hispanics agree. 63% of Millennials say marijuana should be legalized while only 27% of the Silent Generation (those 69 to 86 years old) agree.

3. 69% of Americans believe alcohol is more harmful to health than marijuana. 15% picked marijuana as being worse and 14% said both or neither. If marijuana became as widely available as alcohol in the U.S., 63% still believe alcohol to be more harmful to society.

4. 63% of Americans don’t want people to smoke marijuana in public. 54% of people surveyed think that legalizing marijuana would lead to more underage people using it. Whereas 57% of the people surveyed said they would be okay with a store legally selling marijuana in their neighborhood.

5. 47% of Americans say they have tried using marijuana. 11% said they tried marijuana within the past year, which the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health says is the most used illicit drug in the U.S.

6. Four states – Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska – and the Washington D.C. have legalized recreational marijuana use. 14 states have decriminalized certain amounts of marijuana possession. Including those five recreational marijuana locations, nearly half of U.S. states (23 and Washington D.C.) have legalized medical marijuana use.

United States Marijuana

The legal marijuana industry (medical and recreational) is the fastest growing industry in the United States and if the legalization trend continues to spread throughout the country, marijuana could become larger than the organic food industry, according to a recent report.

The ArcView Group, a marijuana industry investment and research firm, found that the U.S.’s legal marijuana market grew 74 percent in 2014 to $2.7 billion, up from $1.5 billion in 2013.

“In the last year, the rise of the cannabis industry went from an interesting cocktail conversation to being taken seriously as the fastest growing industry in America,” stated Troy Dayton, CEO of The ArcView Group. “At this point, it’s hard to imagine that any serious businessperson who is paying attention hasn’t spent some time thinking about the possibilities in this market.”

The report also projects a strong year for legalized marijuana in 2015 and projects 32 percent growth in the industry. Dayton noted that that places “cannabis in the top spot” when compared with other fast growing industries.

The report also reveals some interesting marijuana trends: California has the largest legal marijuana market in the U.S., at $1.3 billion. Arizona has the fastest growing marijuana market in 2014, expanding to $155 million, up more than $120 million from the previous year. Medical marijuana is already legalized in Arizona and California and recreational legalization measures are expected to appear on 2016 ballots in both states.

Over the next five years, the marijuana industry is expected to continue to grow. Research firms have predicted that 14 more states will legalize recreational marijuana and at least two more states will legalize medical marijuana. There are about 10 states already considering legalizing recreational marijuana in the next two years through state legislatures or ballot measures.

To date, four states – Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington — have legalized recreational marijuana use. Washington, D.C. voters also legalized recreational marijuana use, but sales are currently banned. Twenty-three states currently have medical marijuana legalized.

Congress Marijuana

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) released a comprehensive report that examined the establishing of a wholesale excise tax on the production and sale of marijuana-related products on a federal level.

This comprehensive policy and fiscal report of how marijuana can be taxed and regulated nationally included enforcement concerns, discouraging youth use, choosing the base to tax (such as weight, potency, and price), restrictions, labeling, special tax rates, home production and medical marijuana.

CRS’s economic analysis indicated that marijuana prices would likely fall from current-day prohibition-influenced prices of approximately $200-$300 per ounce to potentially less than $20 per ounce. The economic modeling was based on a $40 billion annual US marijuana market that tested a $50 per ounce federal excise tax price point which would generate nearly $7 billion in federal excise tax.

Alcohol and marijuana’s external costs (i.e. taxation to equate with external costs of the drug use on society) were studied and researchers pegged alcohol’s external costs to the nation at $30 billion annually and marijuana’s at less than $1.6 billion, revealing that the federal government understands that alcohol is a much more harmful substance to society than marijuana.

NORML Executive Director commented on the CRS report:

“This CRS report on the prospects of the federal government taxing and regulating cannabis is another clear indication of the political saliency and fiscal appeal of ending cannabis prohibition at the state, and increasingly at the federal level (replacing the nearly eighty-year old failed federal policy with tax-n-regulate policies that are similar to alcohol and tobacco products). With four states and the District of Columbia since 2012 opting for legalizing cannabis, dozens of members of Congress from both major political parties—from states with legalization and those that pine for it—are getting serious about making sure the federal government does not lose out on hundreds of millions annually in tax revenue from the ever-growing cannabis industry in the United States.”

Marijuana Depression

Researchers from The Netherlands published a study in the European Neuropsychology journal that focused on the effects of THC on humans while processing emotional content. They found that THC decreased brain activity when faced with negative stimuli.

The researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) technology to gauge the study subjects’ brain activity. Subjects were shown faces expressing different emotions and then asked whether the person was happy or fearful. This gauged whether THC would effect how the subjects perceived others’ emotions.

Their findings were quite interesting, to say the least: THC decreased brain activity in response to the negative stimuli, but not for the positive stimuli. One researcher stated that “These results indicate that THC administration reduces the negative bias in emotional processing.”

The “negative bias” refers to when a person gives more weight to negative experiences than positive experiences. For example, it’s common for people to be afraid of all dogs after being attacked by a dog. This fear remains embedded in the subconscious despite the many positive experiences a person has had with a dog(s). This reveals to us that negative emotions may be stronger and have more of an impact on someones long-term psyche than positive emotions.

When a negative bias is prevelant in a person’s everyday interactions, it has been linked to depression. Depressed patients often have this negative bias which causes them to perceive events in more of a negative way than people without depression. This leads to the notion that THC could be very useful in naturally treating depression and PTSD.

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