ST. LOUIS — With Missouri’s new medical marijuana law just now sprouting, efforts are already underway to join the growing list of states that have legalized recreational marijuana. The issue at this point is less about the pros and cons of such a change than about its inevitability. America is increasingly rejecting a prohibition that, in the shadow of legalized alcohol and tobacco, never made sense.

Missouri might as well do it sooner rather than later, if only to end the trouble and expense of enforcing pot laws that seem destined to eventually be off the books.

With startling speed, pot has gone from a demonized illicit drug to a legal medicinal product in more than half the states. Illinois is the latest of 11 states to take the final step toward full legalization — recreational pot sales started in January. So a neighboring state will now draw additional business and sales-tax revenue from St. Louis residents — business and tax revenue that could be staying here.

Missouri voters in 2018 approved legalization of medical marijuana. The state has since licensed scores of dispensaries. Sales will begin later this year, with revenue expected to exceed $100 million by 2025.

Cannabis has legitimate medicinal qualities for pain reduction and other uses, but there’s little doubt that some will try to game the system to obtain it for recreational purposes — just as some always have for other forms of medicinal drugs.

The effort that medical-marijuana dispensaries and the state will have to make to prevent that adds to the reasons for wholly legalizing the product.

As the Post-Dispatch’s Jack Suntrup reports, organizers are gearing up to do just that. The group Missourians for a New Approach will attempt to gather the requisite 160,000 signatures by a May deadline to get the question on the November ballot. The previous effort to get signatures for the medical-marijuana initiative took much longer, but, again, this has been an increasingly fast-moving issue.

Though marijuana is generally believed to be less dangerous than alcohol or tobacco, there are reasonable arguments to be made for not adding it to society’s list of legalized vices — but the time for making those arguments has long since passed. Support for legalized marijuana, which was consistently at less than one-third of the country for decades, began rising steadily around 2000. About two-thirds of Americans now support legalization. As more states move toward full legalization, those that don’t will have to continue spending resources to police for what most Americans no longer think should be a crime.

America’s pot prohibition is headed for the history books, to stand alongside the short-lived alcohol prohibition of a century ago. It’s no longer a matter of if, but when. Which means Missouri might as well get on board now.

Copyright St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reprinted with permission.

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