With New Mexico, Virginia and Connecticut the latest to legalize it, recreational marijuana is now legal for adults in 18 states, as well as Washington, D.C.

And the federal prohibition on cannabis looks dumber by the day.

With the vast majority of Americans living with some kind of legal marijuana, and broad support for wider legalization, it is ridiculous to keep marijuana illegal at the federal level. Rather than keeping Americans safe, those laws are instead wasting resources and impeding the development of new industries.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, last week introduced legislation that would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level, removing penalties, expunging nonviolent federal criminal records, and regulating and taxing the drug.

The bill would allow states to decide on legalization, while cannabis would be reclassified federally, opening the way for more research into its therapeutic uses.

The legislation faces a difficult road in Congress, where the views of lawmakers have not kept up with their constituents.

But whether they like it or not, cannabis is fast becoming a legitimate business. The only question now is whether the federal government lets it act like any other industry, or merely holds it back for a while more.

There’s no question where this going eventually. More than 90 percent of Americans agree that marijuana should be legal at least for medical use, support that has grown tremendously through the last two decades, according to the Pew Research Center.

More than 43% of U.S. adults now live with in states with legal recreational marijuana, and more have access to medical marijuana, including in places like deep-red Oklahoma, which just a few years ago fought legalization in nearby Colorado, but where a wide-open medical program now basically gives everyone access.

In Maine, the medical marijuana industry takes in more than $100 million a year, more than blueberries or potatoes. The recreational market is now growing leaps and bounds too.

In Oklahoma, sales are projected to reach $1.1 billion – with a “b” – this year.

What sense does it make to continue on with this federal charade? Besides getting in the way of potentially valuable research, the differences in state and federal law have caused marijuana businesses problems with banking, landlords, employees and vendors.

At the same time, legal marijuana has not been a public health issue. In fact, fewer than half of Americans say they have ever used the drug, while only 18% have used it in past year, and only 11% in the past month.

Even Clarence Thomas, perhaps the most conservative member of the Supreme Court, said recently that the federal prohibition “may no longer be necessary.”

The tide has already turned, even if most of Congress doesn’t recognize it yet. The choice now isn’t about whether to make marijuana legal – for most Americans, it already is, and that fact hasn’t intruded on the rights of others.

The choice is whether to end the counterproductive federal prohibition now, or at some point in the near future.

So what’s the point of waiting?


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