Pubdate: Fri, 17 Jan 2014
Source: Progress-Index, The (VA)
Copyright: The Progress-Index 2014
Author: Ronald Fraser
Page: A4


To the Editor:

When asked, "Do you think the use of marijuana should be made legal,
or not?" a 2013 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.

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. A sword 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 non-violent, peaceful activity,
especially a law that can't be enforced, is not worthy of public support.

Sociologists provide an alternative explanation. They tell us laws do
not necessarily constitute absolute declarations of right and wrong
behavior. 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.

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

As long as the public accepts the moral standards found in a law, it
will likely 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 and its
enforcement actions.

The 1970 federal Controlled Substances Act classified both 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.

But as the drug war played out in the states, public opinion moved in
the other direction. 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. Gallup's poll
taken that year captured America's newly emerging attitude toward the
use of marijuana.

Here demographics and politics help us understand why Gallup found 58
percent in favor of legalization in a 2013 poll. While 65 percent of
the Democrats 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 65 years of age
favor legalization. The driving force behind the legalization trend is
composed mostly of liberals and younger Americans.

In addition, the state-federal medical marijuana gap widened still
further. By 2013, according to the National Conference of State
Legislatures, 20 states and the District of Columbia have enacted
medical marijuana statutes while the still extant 1970 federal law
maintains that marijuana has no known medical use.

Ever rising enforcement cost, overcrowded prisons and SWAT-team
tactics made good news items and raised doubts about the drug war. But
the widespread acceptance of marijuana for medical purposes, directly
defying Washington's characterization of the drug, and recently passed
laws in Colorado and Washington State legalizing marijuana for
recreational use, represent a deeper, more fundamental values shift
within the American population.

By the time the 2013 Gallup poll was taken, 58 percent of American
adults gave a green light to legalization since they no longer support
discredited laws declaring marijuana to be a very dangerous drug with
no medicinal uses. The facts have shown otherwise.

The end.

Ronald Fraser, Ph.D. DKT Liberty Project Washington, D.C.
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