When it comes to the polarizing debate of whether or not marijuana should be decriminalized, a slight majority of the American public continues to be in favor of legalizing the drug.
Gallup's 2014 poll showed that 51% of its respondents were in favor of legalizing marijuana, down from 58% in the year prior, but still decisively ahead of the 47% opposed to its legalization. For added context, in 2004, just 10 years prior, 64% of respondents were opposed to legalizing marijuana, while roughly a third were in favor of decriminalizing it. Similar results were observed in the General Social Survey's in-person interviews on marijuana, which are conducted every two years. In the GSS poll, 52% were in favor of legalization, while 42% opposed it.
If the idea of recreational marijuana is stripped out of the equation, and you strictly ask Americans whether they'd be in favor of legalizing marijuana for medical purposes only, the percent in favor tends to go up dramatically. A recent poll from Quinnipac University showed that 84% of respondents in Florida and Ohio favored the legalization of medical marijuana, while the percentage rose to 88% in Pennsylvania.
We can't blame these respondents for being excited, as recent studies have come to light suggesting that marijuana may hold a number of medical benefits in fighting certain diseases. For instance, pretreating aggressive brain tumor cells with cannabinoids THC and CBD four hours before treatment increased their radiosensitivity, making radiation therapy more effective. Marijuana was also shown in a separate study to potentially be an effective means of controlling the blood sugar levels of type 2 diabetics. These are just a few of a handful of studies that have recently been released.
President Obama crushes marijuana supporters with these 15 words
But, in spite of marijuana's incredible momentum -- which has led 23 states (plus Washington, D.C.) to approve it for medical use, and four states (plus Washington, D.C.) to legalize it for recreational use -- President Obama had some choice words earlier this month while speaking in Jamaica about the future of the marijuana industry in the United States.
When asked about where the U.S. stands on the legalization of marijuana, Obama uttered 15 words sure to send shivers down the spines of marijuana supporters:
I do not foresee, any time soon, Congress changing the law at a national basis.
President Obama's expanded commentary went as follows:
Right now, that is not federal policy, and I do not foresee, any time soon, Congress changing the law at a national basis. But I do think that if there are states that show that they are not suddenly a magnet for additional crime, that they have a strong enough public health infrastructure to push against the potential for increased addiction, then it's conceivable that it will spur on a national debate. But that is going to be some time off.
In other words, we have a reinforcement from the president that the federal government is still concerned with the potential long-term effects marijuana might have on a user in terms of its potential addictive qualities, as well as its potential to increase crime rates.
Of course, getting a straight answer on either point is tough, as there are studies suggesting either side could be correct. The Huffington Postreported in August that, according to the National Incident Based Reporting System and the FBI Uniform Crime Reports, Denver crime rates were up 7% compared to the corresponding period in 2013. Specifically, public drunkenness was up 237% and drug violations rose 20% -- all within the first year of marijuana's legalization within the state of Colorado.
However, just last April, the University of Texas at Dallas released a study suggesting that marijuana legalization not only wouldn't increase crime rates, but it may actually decrease them by reducing the number of people who use alcohol. Researchers proclaimed that people substituting marijuana for alcohol could reduce the incidence rate of certain violent crimes typically caused by alcohol consumption.
Don't expect change anytime soon
The other clear component to Obama's commentary was that marijuana policy just isn't a priority for Congress, or even for President Obama. The American public might be growing in its support of marijuana legalization, but more pressing foreign and domestic issues are liable to take precedence with the country's leadership.
What does this mean for marijuana supporters and pharmaceutical companies like GW Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: GWPH ) , which are researching the use of cannabinoids to treat more than a half-dozen different ailments? It means the prospect of many more years without change.
GW Pharmaceuticals has been especially hopeful that the recently-introduced legislation in the Senate known as the CARERS Act would gain Congressional support. The CARERS Act is designed to end federal prosecution for medical marijuana use.
More importantly for GW Pharmaceuticals, it would reschedule marijuana as a schedule 2 drug, officially signifying that it has medical benefits, and it would remove many of the barriers GW currently needs to jump over prior to beginning its cannabinoid research in clinical trials. Presumably, a more relaxed federal policy toward marijuana could allow GW Pharmaceuticals to expand its research and potentially shorten the length of time it takes to move drug hopefuls from the lab to human trials.
With the hope for a near-term legalization of marijuana on a federal level all but dashed, at least for the time being, it pretty much ensures marijuana is going to remain a dicey and potentially dangerous investment for the near future. With losses likely for most marijuana stocks for many years to come, investors would be wise to keep their distance from all types of marijuana stocks, including cannabinoid drug developers like GW Pharmaceuticals.