Legalization strategist Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, likes the direction the marijuana smoke is wafting. But he knows his side has considerable work yet to do.
"I'm constantly reminding my allies that marijuana is not going to legalize itself," he says.
Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes since California voters made the first move in 1996. Voters in Colorado and Washington state took the next step last year and approved pot for recreational use. Alaska is likely to vote on the same question in 2014, and a few other states are expected to put recreational use on the ballot in 2016.
Nearly half of adults have tried marijuana, 12 percent of them in the past year, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center. More teenagers now say they smoke marijuana than ordinary cigarettes.
Fifty-two percent of adults favor legalizing marijuana, up 11 percentage points just since 2010, according to Pew. Sixty percent think Washington shouldn't enforce federal laws against marijuana in states that have approved its use. Seventy-two percent think government efforts to enforce marijuana laws cost more than they're worth.
"By Election Day 2016, we expect to see at least seven states where marijuana is legal and being regulated like alcohol," says Mason Tvert, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, a national legalization group.