I smoked pot for the first time in 1969. The Doors
Doorswere 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
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.
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In the case of our outdated marijuana laws, policy changes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
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
"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
Wall Street movementis 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
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.