Pubdate: Wed, 02 Apr 2014
Source: Columbian, The (WA)
Copyright: 2014 The Columbian Publishing Co.
Author: Kristen Wyatt, Associated Press


DENVER - Three-fourths of Americans say it's inevitable that marijuana
will be legal for recreational use across the nation, whether they
support such policies or not, according to a public opinion poll
released Wednesday that highlights shifting in attitudes following an
era of drug war and "tough on crime" legislation.

The Pew Research Center survey also shows increased support for ending
mandatory minimum prison sentences for non-violent drug offenders and
doing away altogether with jail time for small amounts of marijuana.

The opinions come as public debate on these topics has led lawmakers
around the nation to consider policy changes.

Since California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana
in 1996, at least 19 others, and the District of Columbia, have
followed suit, including two that have approved recreational use. More
than a dozen state legislatures considered legalization measures this

Meanwhile, critics and political leaders, both liberal and
conservative, have clamored for an end to harsh drug sentences, saying
mandatory minimums have contributed to prison overcrowding, civil
rights violations and strained budgets. U.S. Attorney General Eric
Holder has been pushing Congress to overhaul drug sentencing policies.

The telephone survey found that 75 percent of respondents - including
majorities of both supporters and opponents of legal marijuana-think
that the sale and use of pot eventually will be legal nationwide.

It was the first time that question had been asked, but it reflects a
gradual trend of acceptance.

The survey indicates that four years ago, 52 percent of respondents
said they thought the use of marijuana should not be legal, while 41
percent said it should. The new poll shows a reversal with 54 percent
in favor of legalization and 42 percent opposed. It marked a turning
point in a gap that has been shrinking fairly steadily since 1969, the
earliest data available, when 84 percent said pot should be illegal,
and only 12 percent thought otherwise.

"Pot just doesn't seem as bad," said Gregory Carlson, a 52-year-old
landscaper from Denver who did not participate in the Pew survey.

"You don't see anything about someone smoking a joint and then driving
the wrong way into a school bus," Carlson said. With a chuckle, he
added Wednesday, "They just drive slower."

The survey also highlighted a dramatic shift in attitudes on drug
conviction penalties.

The survey was about evenly divided in 2001 on whether it was good or
bad for states to move away from mandatory minimum sentences for
non-violent drug offenders. Today, poll respondents favored moving
away from such policies by a nearly 2-to-1 margin, or 63 percent to 32

Respondents said by margin greater than 3-to-1 that people who use
small amounts of pot shouldn't go to jail.

"Even people who don't favor the legalization of marijuana think the
possession of small amounts shouldn't result in jail time," said
Carroll Doherty, Pew's Director of Political Research.

The nation thought differently a generation ago.

Congress passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act in 1986 to set mandatory
minimum sentences for federal drug crimes that could end up in life
sentences for repeat offenders.

Years later, many states reported prisons bursting at the seams,
prompting public officials started abandoning "lock 'em up" drug
policies in the 1990s. The trend has since accelerated.

Last month, Holder testified in support of proposed sentence
reductions in an effort to reserve the "the harshest penalties for the
most serious drug offenders."

Such plans, including one drafted by Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand
Paul, that would give judges wider discretion in sentencing have
picked up support from both Republicans and Democrats.

The poll suggested that despite shifting attitudes on legalization,
the public remains concerned about drug abuse, with 32 percent of
those surveyed calling it a crisis and 55 percent of respondents
viewing it as a serious national problem.

And a narrow majority, 54 percent, said marijuana legalization would
lead to more underage people trying it.

Marijuana legalization opponents, however, said the public isn't sold
yet on legal pot.

Kevin Sabet, co-founder of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, which
opposes pot legalization, pointed to the fact that 63 percent said it
would bother them if people used marijuana openly in their

"Saying that we don't want people to serve prison time for marijuana
is very different from saying I want a pot shop in my neighborhood
selling cookies and candies and putting coupons in the paper," Sabet

The poll of 1,821 adults was conducted Feb. 14-23. The survey had a
margin of error of plus or minus 2.6 percentage points  
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MAP posted-by: Jo-D