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One of the most popular and controversial topics in the U.S. is marijuana legalization.

Today, 33 states permit marijuana for medical use, and 18 more (plus Washington D.C.) allow it for recreational purposes. It’s no surprise that people have many opinions on the subject.

The majority of Americans think marijuana should be legal for medical and recreational purposes–and that number is only growing. But how did we get here? And why are attitudes changing?

The reasons are varied and complicated, but a few common explanations are here.

The changing face of marijuana users: People who used marijuana were generally teenagers and young adults in the past. Today, there are many older users, including parents and baby boomers. These people are using marijuana for medicinal purposes, including pain management and appetite stimulation. There has been an increased willingness by society to accept medicinal uses of marijuana, which has helped drive the movement toward legalization.

Legalization: Legalization has brought marijuana out into the open in states like Colorado and Washington. At the same time, it’s giving people more opportunities to experiment. And because so many states have legalized marijuana in some form, it’s removed some of the shock you might have felt when you first heard that your neighbor was toking up. This doesn’t mean that these 50 areas are free-for-all when it comes to getting stoned on the job — far from it. In most cases, employers can still fire employees with a positive marijuana test outcome or those who fail to follow established rules regarding marijuana use on the job or at work-related events.It’s safer than alcohol or tobacco: While some people think marijuana is dangerous, it’s less harmful than two legal and widely available substances throughout this country: alcohol and tobacco. A study published in The Lancet found that marijuana use has a lower risk of mortality and addiction than alcohol or tobacco use. The study also found that marijuana was less toxic to the body and brain than those other two substances.

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