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Will Public Opinion Force Washington’s Hand on Pot?

White House mum on shift in polls on decriminalization, while Congress may produce bill to let states legalize and federally tax pot.

by
Bill Straub

Bio

April 11, 2013 - 12:49 pm

WASHINGTON – After making what appears to be a historic flip in support of gay marriage, the American public may be poised to change its collective mind on yet another hot-button issue – the legalization of marijuana.

And at least some of the nation’s elected officials, usually reluctant to take a position that makes them look soft on drugs, are prepared to follow suit.

The Pew Research Center for People & the Press has released the results of a poll showing that for the first time a majority of Americans, by a seven-point margin, believe marijuana should be made legal.

The survey, conducted from March 13 through March 17, found that 52 percent of those questioned support legalization – an 11 percent jump since the question was last polled in 2010. In 1969, a Gallup poll determined that only 12 percent favored legalization.

According to Pew, an increasing percentage of Americans – 48 percent — say they have tried marijuana. About half of those in all age groups, save for those 65 or older, have used it.

The report comes at a time when an increasing number of states are looking to relax marijuana statutes. Residents in two states — Washington and Colorado — voted in November to legalize marijuana for adult recreational use. In all, 17 states have taken steps to decriminalize possession while 20 states have moved to legalize it for medicinal purposes.

Rhode Island is the latest to join the decriminalization list, limiting minor marijuana possession offenses to fines only, resulting in no jail time. Rhode Island became the fifteenth state to eliminate jail time in cases involving the personal possession of cannabis.

Legislation was introduced in nine other states this year to decriminalize possession. In addition the Kentucky General Assembly this month passed legislation supporting research into the cultivation of industrial hemp as an agricultural commodity. The legislation became law without the signature of Gov. Steve Beshear. Eight states have enacted statutes defining industrial hemp as an agricultural product.

NORML, an organization dedicated to reforming the nation’s marijuana laws, reports that cannabis is the third most popular recreational drug in America behind alcohol and tobacco. It has been used by nearly 100 million Americans. According to government surveys, about 25 million Americans have smoked marijuana in the past year and more than 14 million do so regularly despite laws against its use.

This shift in public attitude toward decriminalization hasn’t been directly addressed by the White House. Attorney General Eric Holder likewise remains mum on how the Department of Justice intends to proceed in implementing anti-drug laws in face of the legalization movements in Washington and Colorado.

Regulations legalizing marijuana possession in those two states have not yet taken effect. Once they do, the DOJ will have to determine whether to ignore the violation of federal law or crack down. The department is not showing its hand.

Obama, along with predecessors Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, has acknowledged using marijuana in his younger days. He remains coy about his policy intentions. But in an interview with Barbara Walters, broadcast in December, the president replied that the administration “has “got bigger fish to fry” than strictly enforcing federal marijuana laws.

“It would not make sense for us to see a top priority as going after recreational users in states that have determined that it’s legal,” he said.

Now some members of Congress are looking to get involved. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) have joined forces on a pair of bills. One would shift responsibility for marijuana regulation to the individual states and create a framework for federal taxation in places where it is legalized. The second would remove the Drug Enforcement Administration’s authority over marijuana and allow states to choose whether to allow marijuana for medicinal or recreational use.

“This legislation doesn’t force any state to legalize marijuana but Colorado and the 18 other jurisdictions that have chosen to allow marijuana for medical or recreational use deserve the certainty of knowing that federal agents won’t raid state-legal businesses,” Polis said. “Congress should simply allow states to regulate marijuana as they see fit and stop wasting federal tax dollars on the failed drug war.”

Blumenauer noted that there has been a dramatic shift in the marijuana policy landscape.

“Public attitude, state law and established practices are all creating irreconcilable difficulties for public officials at every level of government,” he said. “We want the federal government to be a responsible partner with the rest of the universe of marijuana interests while we address what federal policy should be regarding drug taxation, classification and legality.”

Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, who sought the Republican nomination for president in 2012 before dropping out and running on the Libertarian Party ticket, has long advocated marijuana legalization, arguing that it is “insane to arrest roughly 800,000 people a year for choosing to use a natural substance that is, by any reasonable objective standard, less harmful than alcohol, a drug that is advertised at every major sporting event.”

“By managing marijuana like alcohol and tobacco – regulating, taxing and enforcing its lawful use – America will be better off,” Johnson said. “The billions saved on marijuana interdiction, along with the billions captured as legal revenue, can be redirected against the individuals committing real crimes against society.”

Washington freelancer Bill Straub is former White House correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service.

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All Comments   (16)
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It could be that people are sick and tired of overbearing, militarized law enforcement and are starting to decide that the War on Drugs at the federal level is (and was) a mistake and are shoving back via the legalization ballot initiatives. Move the legalization argument out of DC and back to the state capitals for all drugs, not just pot, and put the DEA et all out of business. Republicans can adopt that argument and do quite well with it as a vehicle to restore constitutional rights (property forfeiture among others) by getting the federal goons out of their warfighting suits. Might be a productive approach. It's not what you decide. Rather, it is where those decisions are made, with the closer to the individual the better. Cheers -

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Perhaps public opinion regarding legalizing pot has changed because so many millions of people now take legal, mind-altering prescription drugs, from pain-killers to anti-depressants, and they just think, "So what". Besides, legalizing pot is a winner for Democrat politicians because a) it creates more blissed-out people willing to surrender their autonomy and well-being to the government and b) paranoia makes voters easier to manipulate.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
On the contrary, it's a disaster for the democrats, the biggest profiteers from the war on drugs aside from the cartels are the trial lawyers, the police and prison unions, all of whom mainline money into the DNC.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I agree with you, but legal pot will still leave plenty of other drugs from which these groups can profit. Trial lawyers never lose because they always have so much else to mine, such as the ever-increasing realm of "hate speech" and "hate crimes".
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Are any of you suffering from cancer? Have any of you tried to LIVE on the drugs that the current set of "doctors" prescribe for pain? How about you try to ingest 3 different kinds of artificial opiates 3 times a day and still funtion normally. You people with all these high and mighty morals that think your opinion and those of talking heads should take the "one size fits all approach" should go talk to some sick people in the nations cancer wards before you open your pieholes like you know something! How many car wrecks are recorded each year due to pot use vrs alcohol? same for violent crime?

Dont worry your pretty little empty heads because the gubbermint is hard at work putting together "studies" that want to label you as "impaired" at 5 nano-grams of pot in your bloodstream and to put THAT into perspective: if you smoked a joint today...2 weeks from now you would STILL have 5 nano-grams in your bloodstream. Tax and spend politicians are drooling at the new revenue source, police and prisoners for profit companies are drooling at the sight of new neverending profits, and oblowmecare will label you a metal defective if you have EVER smoked it and use that as a reason for taking your guns away (like they are doing RIGHT NOW to people who are on or EVER USED anit-depressants).

Pot takes away my pain and unlike ALL opiates, it does NOT make me sick and too useless to move without getting dizzy or puking my guts out.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I don't think many people dispute the benefits of medicinal pot in situations like yours or begrudge your use of it. I hope your pain subsides. May God bless you.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The Law has made a criminal out of everyone.....except my parents... ;-)
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"Hey, man, I don't smoke tobacco or dip snuff, or chaw tobacci, 'cause its bad for ye, but howsa 'bout handin' me one of them thar mary-ja wana thingies. I mean, the gobmint says it's alright."

If you don't think this new 'tax stream' won't be abused, you're out of your ever-loving mind.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Well; Clinton got his ideal "blow" in the Oval Office. Maybe Obama will get his too.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
While legalization of cannabis is way overdue, we can not, must not, let this or any of the so called "social issues" detract us from the open and unabashed attack on the Constitution now underway.

If the second amendment falls, the Constitution falls.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
ABSOLUTELY!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I fear what will happen to this nation if the Second Amendment fails. I don't believe our "elected representatives" have any idea how passionate an absolutely vast number of American citizens are about this issue. Or they do know and they either don't care or they are underestimating the consequences.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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