Pubdate: Wed, 28 Jan 2009
Source: AlterNet (US Web)
Copyright: 2009 Independent Media Institute
Author: Paul Armentano
Note: Paul Armentano is the deputy director of NORML and the NORML 
Foundation. He is also the co-author of the forthcoming book 
Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People To Drink?, to be 
published in 2009 by Chelsea Green.
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal)
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Regulation)


This past August, House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., during a 
live interview with CNN, did something quite remarkable. She spoke 
candidly and openly about her support for marijuana-law reform. But 
rather than demanding her colleagues in Washington take the necessary 
steps to end the federal government's seven-decade war on weed, she 
instead called on the public to act.

"We have important work to do outside the Congress in order for us to 
have success inside the Congress." Pelosi said. "[W]e need peoples' 
help to be in touch with their members of Congress to say why this 
(marijuana law reform) should be the case."

As the saying goes, "Ask and ye shall receive."

In the past few months, the public has expressed its support for 
marijuana law reform in unprecedented numbers. The election of former 
pot smoker, Barack "I inhaled frequently; that was the point" Obama, 
coupled with a sagging economy, has stimulated tens of thousands of 
Americans to demand their government stop spending its limited state 
and federal law enforcement resources on efforts targeting, arresting 
and prosecuting marijuana smokers.

For example, in December the question: "Will (President Obama) 
consider legalizing marijuana so that the government can regulate it, 
tax it, put age limits on it and create millions of new jobs and 
create a billion dollar-industry right here in the U.S.?" beat over 
7,300 public-policy issues to claim the top spot in's 
inaugural "Open for Questions" poll. (, now, 
was the official Web site of President Obama's transition team.)

The first-place finish was hardly a fluke. The public's demand to 
"legalize the medicinal and recreational use of marijuana" also 
finished first in a two-month-long Web poll hosted by the 
liberal-leaning social-networking Web site and 
Washington's Case Foundation -- finishing some 5,000 votes ahead of 
the next most popular idea.

More recently, 26,000 visitors cast their vote in a CNBC online poll 
asking, "Do you favor the decriminalization of marijuana use?" More 
than 97 percent of those who voted said yes.

Perhaps most impressively, in a follow-up poll conducted by the Obama 
administration -- commissioned under the guise of creating a 
Citizens' Briefing Book for the new president -- the public's call to 
"stop imprisoning responsible adult citizens" finished first out of 
44,000 policy proposals. But that was far from the only 
marijuana-related question to resonate with the public. Amazingly, a 
separate question calling on the new administration to "stop using 
federal resources to undermine states' medicinal marijuana laws" 
finished in third place.

Critics of the recent poll results are quick to note that online 
polls are not scientific and that arguably more Americans are 
concerned about other pressing social issues -- such as rising 
unemployment, for instance -- than care about reforming the United 
States' pot policies. But those who interpret these results so 
superficially are missing the bigger political picture.

As the popularity of the marijuana issue in these polls indicates, 
there is a significant, vocal and identifiable minority of American 
society that wants to see an end to America's archaic and overly 
punitive marijuana laws. Politicians, particularly progressive 
politicians, would be well-advised to acknowledge this interest group 
and respond accordingly.

Further, a majority of the American public is ready and willing to 
engage in a serious and objective political debate regarding the 
merits of legalizing the use of cannabis by adults, even if their 
elected officials are not. One only has to log on to the thousands of 
public comments, both for and against, marijuana legalization on the 
message board of and to see that Americans are 
pining for, if nothing else, an honest review of our nation's 
so-called war on drugs.

So is the new administration listening? Apparently, not yet.

In response to the poll, the administration posted a curt, 
one-sentence response, "President Obama is not in favor of the 
legalization of marijuana." The reply, though disappointing to some, 
was hardly unexpected. In 2004, Obama voiced support for 
decriminalizing pot (a policy that replaces criminal sanctions with 
the imposition of fines only), but fell short of endorsing 
legalization. (Although as a candidate for president, Obama renounced 
his support for decriminalization.)

Less expected, however, were the actions of the Justice Department 
last week when U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration officials raided 
the office of a California medical marijuana provider, as well as two 
medical grow houses in Colorado. (The possession of marijuana for 
medical purposes is legal in both states, and nonprofit organizations 
may legally dispense marijuana to authorized patients under California law.)

The busts outraged many drug-law-reform advocates, who were quick to 
point out that the new president had pledged on the campaign trail 
not to use Justice Department resources to circumvent state medical 
marijuana laws. Many news outlets also were quick to voice criticism 
toward the new administration for continuing with the federal raids, 
noting that these aggressive actions possess little to no public support.

Of course, it is not yet known whether Obama directly authorized the 
DEA raids. (Both the DOJ and the DEA are staffed, in large part, by 
holdovers from the Bush regime.) That said, there's also no 
indication that anyone at DOJ or DEA has been admonished for their 
behavior either. Obama's silence on the issue so far may be telling. 
It may also be politically detrimental.

Rather than ignore the public's calls for drug-policy reform, the new 
administration ought to be embracing it. After all, many of the same 
voters that put Barack Obama in the White House also voted by wide 
margins in November to liberalize marijuana laws in two states -- 
Michigan and Massachusetts -- and in nearly a dozen municipalities nationwide.

In fact, historically, marijuana-law reform has been a proven winner 
at the polls. Voters in 10 states and the District of Columbia have 
approved ballot measures legalizing the medical use of marijuana. (By 
contrast, only once -- in South Dakota in 2006 -- have voters 
rejected such a measure.)

Municipal ordinances mandating law enforcement to make the 
prosecution of minor pot offenses its "lowest priority" have enjoyed 
similar success -- passing in more than a dozen cities across the 
country, including Denver, Seattle, Oakland, Calif., Santa Barbara, 
Calif., Missoula, Mont., Colombia, Mo., and Fayetteville, Ark.

These results shouldn't be surprising. According to a national poll 
commissioned by CNN and Time magazine, 80 percent of Americans 
support the physician-supervised use of cannabis, and some 3 out of 4 
say that adults should be fined, but not jailed, for using pot recreationally.

In short, marijuana-law reform should no longer be viewed by 
legislators as a political liability. It isn't. Instead, for the new 
administration and for 111th Congress, it is a political opportunity. 
The sooner our federally elected leaders recognize this fact, the 
sooner we, and they, can begin to undo the damage caused by America's 
longest and costliest war, the so-called war on drugs.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake