This week the state of New York legalized the use of recreational marijuana, becoming the 15th state to do so. With the 19 million people living in New York State added to the total, it means that approximately 130 million Americans now live in a state where marijuana use is legal.
Slow, then fast
Public opinion on legalization has changed significantly in the last 50 years, and attitudes have changed most notably since the turn of the millennium. In 1973, just 19% of those polled believed marijuana use should be made legal, by 2000 that had crept up to around 30% of those polled, but by 2019 that number was 67% — roughly a two-thirds majority (data from Pew Research Center). The shift in attitudes gathered substantial speed since Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize recreational use, back in 2012.
Something new to tax
Legal weed means that the state government can also tax any legal sales. In New York, the debate around what to do with those tax revenues was arguably the most contentious of the entire issue. In the end lawmakers compromised that 40% of the tax revenue raised would be earmarked for communities that had been most adversely affected by prior marijuana arrests. The vast majority, more than 94% last year, of those arrests were Black or Latino individuals.