Pubdate: Thu, 03 Apr 2014
Source: Honolulu Star-Advertiser (HI)
Copyright: 2014 Associated Press
Author: Kristen Wyatt, Associated Press
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


DENVER (AP) - 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 attitudes 
after the drug war era and tough-on-crime legislation.

The Pew Research Center survey also shows increased support for 
ending mandatory minimum prison sentences for nonviolent drug 
offenders and doing away 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 year.

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 poll question had been asked, but it 
reflects a gradual trend of acceptance.

Four years ago, 52 percent of survey 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 
year from which data is 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 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 
nonviolent drug offenders. Today, poll respondents favored moving 
away from such policies by a nearly 2-to-1 margin, or 63 percent to 32 percent.

Respondents said by more 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 AntiDrug Abuse Act in 1986 to set mandatory 
minimum sentences for federal drug crimes. In the 1990s, with many 
prisons bursting at the seams, public officials started abandoning 
"lock 'em up" drug policies. The trend has since accelerated.

Plans that would give judges wider discretion in sentencing have 
picked up support from both Republicans and Democrats.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom