It seems that marijuana -- and what people think about it -- is constantly dominating the news, whether it's California's doctors calling for the magic plant's legalization, or the country's law enforcement establishment reminding us it is in fact verboten.
Proving that even the nationally based pulse-takers of our society have nothing better to talk about, The Gallup Organization made marijuana legalization a centerpiece of its recent Crime survey -- and published Monday the poll's highest-ever results.
A record 50 percent of Americans believe marijuana should be legalized, according to the poll, which has been conducted every year since 1969. That's noteworthy, but even more notable is the speed with which the tide of American opinion has turned: Only 25 percent favored legalization as recently as 1996.
Is this progress?
Support crept up every year for the poll's first decade until 1978, when a 28 percent favorable mark dipped to 23 percent in the Nancy Reagan "Just Say No" decade, before rising most rapidly in the 9/11 decade, jumping from 31 percent in favor in 2002 to 50 percent today.
What happened? Pot-hating people are dying, for one: 62 percent of respondents aged 18 to 29 favor legalization, with respondents aged 65-plus are the least legalization-friendly segment, at 31 percent in favor.
Beyond that, it's difficult to determine from the data exactly what changed peoples' minds. Unsurprisingly, self-identified liberals (65 percent) favor legalization more than conservatives (34 percent). It is a little curious to see that men (55 percent) favor legalization more than women (46 percent).
Save the children, perhaps?
In fact, it could be the system. The poll is released just a few days after President Barack Obama's Justice Department announced its intentions to crackdown on California's state-legal medical marijuana system in ways more destructive than the Bush administration ever did. And in fact, that could be the inciting incident, according to Neill Franklin, executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.
"The Obama Administration's escalation of the 'War on Drugs' and its attacks on state medical marijuana laws are only giving more and more Americans the opportunity to realize just how ridiculous and harmful our prohibition-based drug laws are," Franklin wrote in a statement. "Momentum is on the side of reformers, so it's no wonder the drug warriors are getting scared and ramping up their attacks."
The poll surveyed 1,005 Americans of all ages in 50 states and Washington, D.C., and has a error of 4 percent. So it's not perfect -- and it's also mostly irrelevant, as poll-takers don't make laws, and the respondents weren't members of the Senate -- but it's still a milestone.
"If this current trend on legalizing marijuana continues," the poll's authors write, "pressure may build to bring the nation's laws into compliance with the people's wishes."
You mean a democratic democracy? Keep dreaming, you loony pollsters.
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