I smoked pot for the first time in 1969. The


were on the stereo, Jim Morrison singing, "Before you slip into

unconsciousness, I'd like to have another kiss..."

1969 was also the first year the Gallup polling organization

asked Americans how they felt about the legalization of marijuana. The very

idea of legalization was barely within the bounds of polite conversation in

those days, a fact reflected by the measly 12 percent of respondents who said

they favored the idea.

A lot of smoke has gone up the proverbial chimney since

then. This year, when Gallup asked Americans how they felt about legalizing

pot, the

number of people in favor hit 50 percent

— the first time this has

happened since Gallup started polling on the issue in 1969. Those opposed to

legalization dropped to 46 percent.

The Gallup numbers chimed in with previous findings by Zogby and Angus


polling, indicating that over 50 percent of Americans have favored

legalization of marijuana since 2009.

This should be good news on a number of fronts.

When 50 percent of Americans are in favor of something, it

usually opens the door for public discussion about how these feelings might

translate into the development of meaningful policy.

In the case of our outdated marijuana laws, policy changes

could start by reclassifying marijuana from its current status as a Schedule I

drug, which rejects pot's medicinal applications and erroneously lumps it in

with such dangerous and addictive substances as heroin. Rescheduling would

enable people with serious illnesses, like various cancers and Parkinson's, to

have access to marijuana relief, regardless of where they live in the United


The large number of people in favor of legalization should

also permit a more intentional exploration of how marijuana might be developed

as a legitimate cash crop. In states like Indiana, where there is already a

longstanding black market in marijuana cultivation and sales, this would enable

the state to regulate this product and benefit from a new, agriculture-based

revenue stream.

Finally, the burgeoning majority in favor of legalization

should help us to get out from under the social and political hypocrisy that

comes from having to maintain a law that is

practically unenforceable and socially bankrupt. It benefits no one when the

state sets about turning otherwise law-abiding citizens into rebels and

transforms criminals into anti-heroes. If the failure of Prohibition in the

1920s teaches us anything, it should be that while the state may choose to

create disincentives for a variety of behaviors — like drunken driving

— it risks losing whatever legitimate authority it has when it engages in

draconian efforts to completely outlaw those behaviors.

The Gallup and other polls showing Americans' support for

marijuana legalization represent tremendous opportunities for medical, economic

and social progress. The polling data amounts to a permission slip making it

safe for politicians to talk about reforming our marijuana laws for the better.

This isn't happening.

In the past month, the Obama administration has been

hammering medical marijuana dispensaries in California and Colorado. On October

7, U.S.

attorneys in California announced

"coordinated enforcement actions targeting the illegal operations of the

commercial marijuana industry in California."The U.S. Justice of Department, Drug Enforcement

Administration and the Internal Revenue Service have been mobilized in what

appears to be a team effort to drive dispensaries in states where medical

marijuana is legal out of business.

Making a bad situation worse, the Obama administration is

perpetuating the government's long-time practice of discouraging research that

could legitimize the use of pot for medicinal purposes. It has blocked federal

approval of medical marijuana and, through the DEA, rejected a nine-year-old

petition to reschedule marijuana. It has set up a catch-22, demanding that pot

must prove its value through large-scale, FDA controlled trials, while blocking

these trials by refusing to use marijuana grown at a private production


Apparently, the only place where you can get pot for

research is through the National Institutes on Drug Abuse, but guess what? The

NIDA recently blocked a request for marijuana to study its effects on

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder because, said these watchdogs, they don't want

to allow studies that might reinforce or encourage the use of medical


If you've been wondering what the Occupy

Wall Street movement

is about, look no further. Here's a situation where

half of the American people are ready for, at the very least, an energetic

discussion about how to improve our wayward marijuana laws. But the politicians

know better

. In fact, they don't even want to know what marijuana's

benefits might be. They would rather suppress research that could lead to the

relief of suffering veterans and cancer patients than have to rethink the

ineffectual law enforcement apparatus that's been created over the years to

save us from ourselves.

And let's not even start on how our laws have encouraged the

growth of bloody drug cartels in Mexico to supply our black market. That's

material for another column.

Given Gallup's findings, what are the politicians waiting

for? Perhaps their big pharmaceutical campaign contributors will tell us

— when they're ready to go to market.


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