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Millennials lead the charge to end marijuana prohibition

A new poll has illustrated what many of us already know: about half of Arizonans support marijuana legalization.

Nearly 800 voters took the survey conducted by the Arizona Republic that found 50 percent of registered voters support legalization while 40 percent oppose it and 10 percent still aren't sure.

This opinion closely reflects national polls conducted by the Pew Research Center that indicate 53 percent of Americans agree with legalization and 44 percent oppose it while fewer are undecided.

The breakdown looks a little different among political affiliations. Democrats are the largest proponents of legalization at 64 percent, but only 44 percent of Republicans and 53 percent of Independents are supportive.

This is another case of Republicans departing from the party's traditional ideologies as it transitions to an authoritarian platform helmed by their presidential nominee.

In this situation, Republicans are forgoing the party's reasonable political stance of less government regulation in favor of outdated social policies that dictate what others are allowed to do with their private lives, much like the push to ban abortions and prohibit gay marriage.

This issue not only highlights the difference in political ideologies but generational ones too. A Pew poll found that 68 percent of millennials (people under 34 years old) support legalization. Gen Xers and baby boomers are closer to the national average with 52 and 50 percent, respectively, supporting legalization. Only 29 percent of the Silent generation support legalization.

This trend even holds for Republican millennials, of which 63 percent support legalization compared to 47 percent of Gen Xers, 38 percent of Boomers and 17 percent of the Silent Generation born between the 1920s and 1940s.

Of course, the numbers are much higher for Democrats of each generation. Democratic millennials are again the largest support base, with 77 percent supporting legalization compared to 61 percent of Gen Xers, 66 percent of boomers and 44 percent of the Silent Generation.

More Republican millennials support legalization than democratic Gen Xers.

Millennials and Gen Xers across party lines seem to be more in agreement than Boomers and the Silent Generation as well, with a 14 percent difference between Republicans and Democrats for the two younger generations and 28 and 27 percent differences for the two older generations.

This national trend represents the inevitability of marijuana prohibition coming to an end.

Perhaps it's that younger generations didn't grow up under the indoctrination of Reefer Madness. Perhaps it's that our collective culture is coming to understand that marijuana isn't as harmful as we've been led to believe, as it becomes more pervasive throughout the country.

The growing approval of legalization is dominated by marijuana's medical benefits and the conclusion that it's relatively harmless, according to the Pew poll. Other reasons include tax revenue and other regulation benefits, worries over current enforcement and individual liberty.

Reasons against legalization are less substantial.

The most common reason cited for keeping it illegal was that it's bad for society, which is the opinion of 43 percent of those polled. Others said that it's dangerous and addictive (30 percent of opposed), needs to be policed (19 percent), is a gateway drug (11 percent), is bad for young people (8 percent) and that medical is okay, but recreational is not (7 percent).

Findings also show that marijuana is less addictive than alcohol and nicotine. The lifetime risk of dependence for marijuana is 9 percent, with alcohol at 15 percent and nicotine at 32 percent, according to a Mayo Clinic study.

A study from the National Institute on Drug Abuse arrived at the same conclusion for marijuana users developing a lifetime dependence.

It's worth noting, however, that the study found that the risk of lifetime dependence does increase for first-time users under the age of 20. Current legislation takes this point into account, setting the legal age for marijuana consumption at 21, showing that even proponents of legalization are aware of the risk to youth.

As far as the danger to society, the Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy have spoken at length about how marijuana affects work performance, particularly employee absenteeism.

However, new data has found evidence to the contrary. Workers in states that legalized medical marijuana call out of work 8 percent less than before, according to a study conducted by University of Wisconsin Ph.D. candidate Darin Ullman, who pulled data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. States with a greater number of qualifying conditions for medical use saw a 13 percent decrease in absenteeism.

While the study lacks a causal link between medical marijuana use and decreased absenteeism, it's another drop in the bucket of compelling evidence for legalization.

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