A new Gallup poll just released shows a record number of Americans want marijuana legalized — 50 percent of those polled. This comes days after the prestigious California Medical Association called for legalization and regulation of pot like alcohol. Nevertheless, the Obama Administration has continued the aggressive position of the prior Administration in raiding marijuana shops and prosecuting people for federal drug violations.
In 1969, Gallup first asked about legalizing marijuana and only 12% of Americans favored it while 84% said that they were opposed. Support had risen to 40% in 2009 but this year it reached the tipping point.
The National Survey on Drug Use and Health in 2009 found that “16.7 million Americans aged 12 or older used marijuana at least once in the month prior to being surveyed.” Much like the prohibition period with alcohol, we have a crime that is openly violated with little enthusiasm for enforcement in many localities. There is a corrosive effect on a legal system when we criminalize acts that the majority do not view as “real” crimes. The question is whether we have reached the tipping point in reconsidering our approach and whether we should regulate (and tax) marijuana like alcohol — rather than continue to charge people with a crime that millions commit monthly. The fact that many people commit a crime does not necessarily deny the basis for a crime. However, as indicated by the California Medical Association’s decision, there remains considerable opposition from experts in both the legal and medical fields on the necessity of criminalization. Indeed, the potency of marijuana has increased after it was criminalized and it has served to funnel billions into gangs and drug cartels. It has also left millions with criminal records. One argument for legalization is to cut off this source of revenue for criminal gangs and better protect the public. It is doubtful that people will choose to buy mystery pot and more than “bathtub gin” once it is available from stores. The government could also regulate the potency and production of the drug as they do alcohol.
On the other hand, opponents question the wisdom of legalizing a drug given our current problems controlling drunk driving and argue that legalization will flood the country with cheap and available pot (increasing the experimentation among children). There is also the argument that this is a gateway drug and leads to more serious drug use. I have never really been convinced on the gateway argument but these are important issues to debate — particularly in the midst of a presidential campaign. The problem is that our current political system rarely moves discussion of such questions become sound bites and chest pounding. With Obama likely to oppose legalization to appeal to more conservative voters, it is a debate that is not likely to happen despite the 50% of Americans who want legalization.
The question is whether adults should now be allowed to make this decision and allow states to regulate its use.
What do you think?