As the nation's opioid crisis continues to rage, voters are considering whether or not to legalize marijuana.
Arizona, California, and Nevada voted on legalizing cannabis for recreational use. If approved, Colorado-style pot shops will spring up in these states, and possession of up to an ounce will be legal in each.
In Florida and North Dakota, residents vote on whether to allow medical marijuana to be consumed without smoking it.
California voted down an earlier attempt at a medical marijuana law because the moment someone got a doctor's note clearing them to use it, they could immediately start growing plants and selling them out of their homes or storefronts.
Floridians seek a more tightly regulated system to give patients access to medical marijuana."
Legalizing marijuana has been on the ballot in several states in recent years. Voters in five states, Michigan, Nevada, North Dakota, Colorado, and Oklahoma, will decide whether to legalize it this November.
Recreational use is already legal in Alaska, California, Oregon, and Washington. In addition to these measures being decided by voters, several ballot initiatives could expand access to medical marijuana and decriminalize possession of small amounts of the drug by adults.
The issue differs from other contentious issues like gun control or abortion because it doesn't involve moral questions about when life begins or what constitutes a human being.
Rather, it involves whether adults should be able to do something they choose freely with themselves without fear of prosecution by their government or imprisonment at the hands of law enforcement officers enforcing draconian laws against victimless crimes such as possession of small amounts (or even large amounts) of marijuana.
The vote in Arizona, California, and Nevada is on legalizing cannabis for recreational use. In Maine and Massachusetts, voters will decide whether to legalize it for medical use only.
If every state's measure passes, that will double the number of states that permit recreational marijuana use from four to eight a major sea change in American history.
In California, where an estimated 1 million people grow marijuana at home illegally and continue to operate under the guise of medical marijuana laws passed two decades ago, legalization advocates are trying something different.
They've proposed a bill that would allow residents 21 or older to possess up to one ounce of pot without fear of arrest by police or other criminal charges by prosecutors (however they can still be fined).
The bill also allows individuals over the age of 21 living in homes with children under 18 years old (or those who live with others who don't want them using cannabis) to smoke it at home unless they have permission from everyone else
A major difference between the two consumption methods is that smoking is a more intense, immediate experience. It's also a more controversial choice than eating.
But for those concerned about health, there are some major benefits to eating marijuana rather than smoking it.
A study published in Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior showed that vaporizing cannabis has lower carbon monoxide levels than cigarettes, meaning less damage to your lungs over time.
Meanwhile, other studies have shown that inhaling marijuana cannabinoids may have therapeutic effects like pain reduction from inflammation and improved appetite in cancer patients (though these are still under investigation). And let's not forget about the potential for recreational use.
California's medical marijuana law was voted down because when someone got a doctor's note clearing them to use it, they could immediately start growing plants and selling them out of their homes or storefronts.
This was a problem because there weren't any requirements for dispensaries to be licensed or regulated; many people were upset that they could not get access to medical marijuana.
There's a lot of attention on whether or not marijuana will be legalized in the United States. Still, most voters don't realize that many different kinds of legalization can take place.
Some states have passed laws that allow individuals to possess small quantities of cannabis and use it for medical purposes, for example. Other states have gone further by legalizing recreational use as well.
This distinction matters because each type of legalization can significantly differ. Those differences could affect everything from how easy it is to get a license for selling cannabis products to how much money you make if you're trying to sell them legally at your local dispensary.
The details matter when it comes to legalizing marijuana. The people who voted in favor of legalization may have been thinking about the freedom to smoke with friends and family, but they also need to be aware of how their choices impact others.
For example, suppose you're voting on whether or not someone should be able to grow their pot at home and sell it out of their front door (like Colorado does). In that instance, you might end up with a system that allows anyone with an ID card to do this, including minors who can't legally purchase alcohol.
This is just one example; there are many other ways these five ballot initiatives could affect society.
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