Pubdate: Fri, 31 Jan 2014
Source: Union, The (Grass Valley, CA)
Copyright: 2014 The Union
Author: Ronald Fraser, PhD
Note: Ronald Fraser, Ph.D., writes on public policy issues for the 
DKT Liberty Project, a Washington-based civil liberties organization.


When asked, "Do you think the use of marijuana should be made legal 
or not?" a recent Gallup poll found that 58 percent of American 
adults responded, "Yes," compared to 31 percent in 2000 and only 12 
percent in 1969.

Let's consider two ways this huge shift in public opinion might be 
explained. One contends that misguided and lopsided enforcement of 
the marijuana prohibition laws is the cause. The other, more 
fundamental view, contends that Americans simply no longer see any 
reason to continue outlawing this relatively benign substance.

Enforcement failure - State and federal laws prohibiting the use of 
marijuana have often been zealously enforced. Over the years, the 
media have directed public attention to the high costs of enforcement 
and the skyrocketing number of marijuana-possession arrests. As word 
spread of notorious no-knock drug raids, forced entry by military 
style SWAT teams and the fact that police arrests for marijuana 
possession nets many times more blacks than whites - all the while 
failing to deter the use of marijuana - public support shifted from 
prohibition to legalization. In short, a law prohibiting a 
nonviolent, peaceful activity - especially a law that can't be 
enforced - is not worthy of public support.

Values shift - Sociologists tell us that failed enforcement is not 
the answer, that laws are better understood as a form of public 
communication describing the moral values associated with an orderly 
society. From this perspective, marijuana laws are simply statements 
that smoking pot is not acceptable.

Enforcement actions, according to this model, are also a form of 
public communication, but with purposes other than deterring drug 
use. News of drug raids and courtroom punishments mainly serve to 
dramatize and validate the moral standards expressed in marijuana 
prohibition laws and to symbolically reassure citizens that they do, 
in fact, live in an orderly society.

But when citizens no longer agree with the moral standards imposed by 
the law, they are likely to reject the law itself and its enforcement actions.

If citizens accept the moral standards found in a law, they will 
accept the enforcement tactics used to validate those standards. But 
when citizens no longer agree with the moral standards imposed by the 
law, they are likely to reject the law itself and its enforcement 
actions. The 1969 poll - The 1970 federal Controlled Substances Act 
classified marijuana and heroin as "most dangerous" substances with 
no known medical use. Gallup's 1969 poll, in which 88 percent of the 
respondents rejected marijuana legalization, seems to confirm that 
Americans accepted this portrayal of marijuana.

The 2000 poll - As the drug war played out in the states, the polls 
moved in the other direction as states passed medical marijuana laws. 
By 2000, eight states had already approved the use of marijuana for 
pain relief, nausea and appetite stimulation associated with cancer, 
glaucoma and multiple sclerosis.

The 2013 poll - By 2013, 20 states and the District of Columbia had 
enacted medical marijuana statutes while the 1970 federal law 
remained unchanged. Demographics are important, too. While 65 percent 
of the Democrats surveyed favored legalization, only 35 percent of 
the Republicans surveyed did. Sixty-seven percent of respondents aged 
18-29 said "Yes," while only 45 percent of the population over age 65 
favored legalization. The driving force behind legalization is 
composed mostly of liberals and younger Americans. By the time the 
2013 Gallup poll was taken, 58 percent of American adults gave a 
green light to legalization because they no longer supported the 
morally bankrupt laws declaring marijuana to be a very dangerous drug 
with no medicinal uses when the facts have shown otherwise.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom