America’s longest and costliest war, says Paul Armentano, isn’t Iraq: it’s the so-called War on Drugs.
Deputy director of NORML and co-author of the forthcoming Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People To Drink? (Chelsea Green 2009) Armentano presses the case for marijuana law reform in this piece for Alternet.org. In it, he points out the folly of maintaining a hardline position that enjoys little public support.
This past August, House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., during a live interview with CNN, did something quite remarkable. She spoke candidly and openly about her support for marijuana-law reform. But rather than demanding her colleagues in Washington take the necessary steps to end the federal government’s seven-decade war on weed, she instead called on the public to act.
“We have important work to do outside the Congress in order for us to have success inside the Congress.” Pelosi said. “[W]e need peoples’ help to be in touch with their members of Congress to say why this (marijuana law reform) should be the case.”
As the saying goes, “Ask and ye shall receive.”
In the past few months, the public has expressed its support for marijuana law reform in unprecedented numbers. The election of former pot smoker, Barack “I inhaled frequently; that was the point” Obama, coupled with a sagging economy, has stimulated tens of thousands of Americans to demand their government stop spending its limited state and federal law enforcement resources on efforts targeting, arresting and prosecuting marijuana smokers.
For example, in December the question: “Will (President Obama) consider legalizing marijuana so that the government can regulate it, tax it, put age limits on it and create millions of new jobs and create a billion dollar-industry right here in the U.S.?” beat over 7,300 public-policy issues to claim the top spot in Change.gov’s inaugural “Open for Questions” poll. (Change.gov, now WhiteHouse.gov, was the official Web site of President Obama’s transition team.)
The first-place finish was hardly a fluke. The public’s demand to “legalize the medicinal and recreational use of marijuana” also finished first in a two-month-long Web poll hosted by the liberal-leaning social-networking Web site Change.org and Washington’s Case Foundation — finishing some 5,000 votes ahead of the next most popular idea.
More recently, 26,000 visitors cast their vote in a CNBC online poll asking, “Do you favor the decriminalization of marijuana use?” More than 97 percent of those who voted said yes.
Perhaps most impressively, in a follow-up poll conducted by the Obama administration — commissioned under the guise of creating a Citizens’ Briefing Book for the new president — the public’s call to “stop imprisoning responsible adult citizens” finished first out of 44,000 policy proposals. But that was far from the only marijuana-related question to resonate with the public. Amazingly, a separate question calling on the new administration to “stop using federal resources to undermine states’ medicinal marijuana laws” finished in third place.
Critics of the recent poll results are quick to note that online polls are not scientific and that arguably more Americans are concerned about other pressing social issues — such as rising unemployment, for instance — than care about reforming the United States’ pot policies. But those who interpret these results so superficially are missing the bigger political picture.
As the popularity of the marijuana issue in these polls indicates, there is a significant, vocal and identifiable minority of American society that wants to see an end to America’s archaic and overly punitive marijuana laws. Politicians, particularly progressive politicians, would be well-advised to acknowledge this interest group and respond accordingly.
Paul Armentano is the deputy director of NORML and the NORML Foundation. He is also the co-author of the forthcoming book Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People To Drink?, to be published in 2009 by Chelsea Green.
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