Marijuana legalization won its biggest victories yet in the U.S. and across the world in 2016 as more research suggests possible health and societal benefits.
Canada fully legalized marijuana and established a regulatory system for the substance over the past year, as did Uruguay. Australia legalized medical marijuana and began granting cultivation licenses to medical businesses for further research into the effects of the drug.
Germany, Ireland and Jamaica also approved measures to legalize medical marijuana in 2016, and more countries are following suit, holding ongoing legislative discussions on the issue. Experts still stress more research is needed, particularly on the health effects and societal impact of recreational marijuana, reports CNN.
Many governments still lump marijuana in with narcotics and other deadly substances, which officials note makes securing research grants difficult. Health officials argue there is mounting evidence that marijuana can aid an array of health conditions, including chronic pain, multiple sclerosis, severe epilepsy, anxiety and depression.
“People mix medicinal and recreational use,” João Castel-Branco Goulão, director-general of the General-Directorate for Intervention on Addictive Behaviours and Dependencies in Portugal, told CNN. “I have no problems with medicinal marijuana. There are conditions I believe can benefit from cannabis use.”
In the U.S., marijuana activists won major ballot victories on Election Day in states across the country. Medical marijuana legalization passed in Florida, Arkansas and North Dakota. Voters in California, Nevada, Massachusetts and Maine all approved measures to legalize marijuana for recreational use. More than half of U.S. states now provide a form of medical marijuana, and nearly 20 percent of Americans now have access to legal pot.
With the direction marijuana laws are taking in the U.S. and globally, many are fearful it will lead to greater drug abuse and have an overall negative impact on society. Data from Portugal, which decriminalized the possession of all drugs for personal use in 2001, suggests these fears are misplaced and prohibition laws are not very effective. Since Portugal removed legal punishments, drug use among the population has shown no measurable increase.
Still, health officials in Portugal warn the U.S. and other countries to move slowly on marijuana policy and begin with decriminalization instead of outright legalization.
“We were a social laboratory,” Goulão told CNN. “Experiments are now taking place in other parts of the world.”
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