Pubdate: Wed, 26 Sep 2012
Source: Chicago Sun-Times (IL)
Copyright: 2012 Sun-Times Media, LLC
Author: Jacob Sullum


By the time the 21st Amendment ended national alcohol prohibition in 
December 1933, more than a dozen states had already opted out. 
Maryland never passed its own version of the Volstead Act, while New 
York repealed its alcohol prohibition law in 1923. Eleven other 
states eliminated their statutes by referendum in November 1932.

We could see the beginning of a similar rebellion against marijuana 
prohibition this year as voters in three states - Washington, 
Colorado and Oregon - decide whether to legalize the drug's 
production and sale for recreational use. If any of these ballot 
initiatives pass, it might be the most consequential election result 
this fall, forcing both major parties to confront an unjust, 
irrational policy that Americans increasingly oppose.

With six weeks to go before Election Day, Oregon's Measure 80, which 
would establish a commission charged with licensing growers and 
selling marijuana through state-run stores, seems to be in trouble. 
In a SurveyUSA poll this month, only 37 percent of respondents said 
they planned to vote yes, while 41 percent were opposed and 22 
percent were undecided.

But the other two initiatives are polling strongly. According to a 
SurveyUSA poll conducted two weeks ago, 57 percent of Washington 
voters favor Initiative 502, which would authorize private pot stores 
regulated by the state liquor commission; only 34 percent were 
opposed. A SurveyUSA poll completed on Sept. 12 found that 51 percent 
of Colorado voters support Amendment 64, which would allow home 
cultivation of up to six plants and create a licensing system for 
growers and retailers.

Neither of these measures is a sure thing by any means. California's 
Proposition 19, a marijuana legalization measure that was ultimately 
supported by 47 percent of voters in November 2010, polled above 50 
percent in several surveys.

But in the Colorado survey, supporters outnumbered opponents in every 
age group except 65 or older, and Amendment 64 was ahead by 30 
percentage points among respondents younger than 35. These 
generational differences are clear in national survey data, as well. 
In a 2011 Gallup poll, 62 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds supported 
marijuana legalization, compared to 31 percent of respondents in the 
65-and-up group.

Overall support for legalization in the Gallup survey was the highest 
it has ever been: 50 percent, compared to 12 percent in 1969 and the 
mid-to-high 20s during the Carter administration, which was later 
viewed as an especially pot-tolerant period. A May Rasmussen survey 
put current support even higher: 56 percent of respondents said 
marijuana should be treated like alcohol, making pot legalization 
more popular than Barack Obama or Mitt Romney.

Rising support for legalizing marijuana parallels increasing 
experience with the drug. The federal government's survey data 
indicate that most American adults born after World War II have tried 
pot, an experience especially common among people now in their 20s, 
30s and 40s.

That does not mean all these people are current marijuana consumers, 
eager for the lower prices, convenience, quality and variety promised 
by a legal market. But they, along with their friends and relatives, 
have had enough direct and indirect experience with cannabis to 
decide that prohibition costs more than it's worth.

As The Seattle Times observed in a recent editorial endorsing 
Initiative 502: "The question for voters is not whether marijuana is 
good. It is whether prohibition is good." The voices rejecting 
prohibition in Washington and Colorado include city council members, 
state legislators, former U.S. attorneys, clergymen, retired cops and 
two national police organizations - a hard group to dismiss as a 
bunch of silly potheads, which is President Obama's usual approach to 
the issue.

If voters approve marijuana legalization in one or more states this 
November, that contemptuous attitude will no longer be tenable, no 
matter who wins the presidential election.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom