Has the U.S. reached the tipping point on legalizing marijuana?
Arizona, New Jersey, Montana and South Dakota voted Tuesday to legalize recreational pot, bringing the total number of pro-weed states to 14 and the District of Columbia.
Intuitively, one would think that at least 50% of a given population must ascribe to a new idea before it becomes commonly accepted, but psychological studies show that the so-called tipping point occurs around 25%.
Researchers found a group with a “minority viewpoint” can overturn public consensus by establishing acceptance among “roughly 25%” of the group, according to a 2018 paper published in the journal Science.
“Observational accounts of rapid changes in social conventions have suggested that apparently stable societal norms can be effectively overturned by the efforts of small but committed minorities,” said researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and University of London.
With regard to marijuana, political observers note that voters in conservative states, like South Dakota, are approving measures to legalize pot.
“They’re voting disproportionately for other than what you’d expect from traditional Republicanism,” said Michael Card, associate professor of political science at the University of South Dakota.
Just last year, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, a Republican, vetoed a bill passed by her own party to legalize industrial hemp, warning that use of the non-psychoactive cousin to marijuana might lead to experimenting with the drug.
On Tuesday, a slim majority (53%) of South Dakota voters approved a constitutional amendment to “legalize, regulate, and tax” marijuana and hemp. A separate measure to legalize medicinal marijuana passed with 69% of the vote after supporters of legalization had spent more than $1.5 million, according to campaign finance records.
“The governor said hemp was a ‘gateway drug’ to marijuana, and lo and behold, it became a gateway drug but not in the way she thought,” Mr. Card said of Ms. Noem.
Meanwhile, Mississippi on Tuesday joined the wide majority of states that authorize the use of medical marijuana. (Only Idaho and Nebraska outlaw medicinal pot.) About 67% of Mississippi voters approved the medical pot measure despite opposition by the Republican-led Legislature.
About 60% of Arizona voters and 56% of Montana voters approved ballot measures to legalize recreational marijuana.
“I think it will be a real shot in the arm for the tourism industry,” Dave Lewis, policy adviser for New Approach Montana, told Bozeman Daily Chronicle.
Proponents, including the D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project, say that decriminalizing weed will eliminate arrests for nonviolent offenses, which disproportionately affect Black men. Some point to pot cultivation as a boost for drier agricultural regions.
Other observers say marijuana use — like same-sex marriage — represents a once-taboo subject maturing into a nonissue among voters.
The margin of victory in the states, including New Jersey, where 66.9% of voters approved recreational use for persons 21 and older, suggests that legal marijuana is no longer a niche of liberal states, such as Washington, Colorado and California, where cannabis was first legalized for medical purposes in 1996.
In Minnesota, a number of state legislative races saw third-party candidates running under the Legal Marijuana Now and the Grassroots — Legalize Cannabis parties, though the candidates were accused Wednesday of stealing votes from major-party candidates.
Marijuana is still a controlled substance that is illegal under federal law.
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