One of the main reasons that cannabis has been legalized in more and more states, both for medicinal and so-called recreational uses, is a major shift in public perception about the benefits and harms of the drug. Indeed, all five of the jurisdictions that currently have a legal non-medicinal cannabis industry—Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Colorado, and Washington, DC—made the change from prohibition based not on public policy, but by popular vote.
Vermont could be the first state to have legislators vote to legalize recreational cannabis, but that remains to be seen. Thus far, this sweeping change in law and policy has been a people's revolution, coming entirely from the bottom up. Even though the current head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Chuck Rosenberg, called cannabis "something that is bad and dangerous," and the idea that cannabis has medicinal value "a joke," this type of thinking appears to be falling out of favor with voters.
A CBS News pole conducted last year showed that 84 percent of Americans believed cannabis should be legalized for medicinal use nationwide, a rare level of consensus on any political question. Unlike the propaganda from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the change in public attitude seems to be coming from two main sources of information. First, despite having their hands tied by the DEA, globally, scientists have shown great interest in studying cannabis and the number of top-quality scientific studies reporting medicinal benefits to cannabis has grown.
Recently a British-based company, GW Pharmaceuticals, created a drug from cannabis that has been clinically proven to treat the debilitating and often deadly seizures of children suffering from epilepsy. That study alone demonstrates that cannabis' medicinal value is not a joke.
The second source of information people are using to make more informed decisions about cannabis is the experience of people who use it. Unlike propaganda films such as "Reefer Madness," cannabis use doesn't appear to make people go insane, commit sex crimes or become criminals or drug addicts.
States with legal recreational cannabis have seen a small increase in the growth of "pot tourism," from people visiting from states still mired in prohibition. However, a recent poll by Fortune Magazine found that a majority of Americans, 59 percent, wouldn't even try cannabis if it were legalized. Thus, it seems the only real question remaining on cannabis is when the federal government will catch up with the rest of America.