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April 5, 2013

"Nearly three-quarters of Americans (72%) say that, in general, government efforts to enforce marijuana laws cost more than they are worth"

4-4-13-21The title of this post is the sentence and finding that struck me as the most notable and most interesting data point emerging from the just-released survey on marijuana law and policy by the Pew Research Center.  This extended press release from the folks at Pew, which carries the headline "Majority Now Supports Legalizing Marijuana," reports on all of the survey's main findings, and here are a few excerpts:

For the first time in more than four decades of polling on the issue, a majority of Americans favor legalizing the use of marijuana.  A national survey finds that 52% say that the use of marijuana should be made legal while 45% say it should not.

Support for legalizing marijuana has risen 11 points since 2010.  The change is even more dramatic since the late 1960s. A 1969 Gallup survey found that just 12% favored legalizing marijuana use, while 84% were opposed.

The survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted March 13-17 among 1,501 adults, finds that young people are the most supportive of marijuana legalization.  Fully 65% of Millennials — born since 1980 and now between 18 and 32 — favor legalizing the use of marijuana, up from just 36% in 2008.  Yet there also has been a striking change in long-term attitudes among older generations, particularly Baby Boomers.

Half (50%) of Boomers now favor legalizing marijuana, among the highest percentages ever.  In 1978, 47% of Boomers favored legalizing marijuana, but support plummeted during the 1980s, reaching a low of 17% in 1990.  Since 1994, however, the percentage of Boomers favoring marijuana legalization has doubled, from 24% to 50%....

The survey finds that an increasing percentage of Americans say they have tried marijuana.  Overall, 48% say they have ever tried marijuana, up from 38% a decade ago. Roughly half in all age groups, except for those 65 and older, say they have tried marijuana....

Among those who say they have used marijuana in the past year, 47% say they used it “just for fun,” while 30% say it was for a medical issue; 23% volunteer they used it for medical purposes and also just for fun....

More recently, there has been a major shift in attitudes on whether it is immoral to smoke marijuana.  Currently, 32% say that smoking marijuana is morally wrong, an 18-point decline since 2006 (50%).  Over this period, the percentage saying that smoking marijuana is not a moral issue has risen 15 points (from 35% then to 50% today).

Amid changing attitudes about marijuana, a sizable percentage of Americans (72%) say that government efforts to enforce marijuana laws cost more than they are worth.  And 60% say that the federal government should not enforce federal laws prohibiting the use of marijuana in states where it is legal....

While Americans increasingly support legalizing marijuana and fewer see its potential dangers, many still do not like the idea of people using marijuana around them.  About half (51%) say they would feel uncomfortable if people around them were using marijuana, while 48% would not feel uncomfortable.  As with nearly all attitudes about marijuana, there are substantial age differences in discomfort with others using marijuana — 74% of those 65 and older say they would be uncomfortable if people around them used marijuana, compared with 35% of those under 30.

I genuinely wonder if there is any other serious federal felony law for which 3 out of every 4 persons would say that government enforcement efforts "cost more than they are worth." I also wonder whether and how these public opinions will start to have a tangible impact on federal marijuana laws, policies and practices.

April 5, 2013 at 10:43 AM | Permalink

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Comments

What will Bill Otis and the other crazed drug warriors say now?

Should we ignore the will of the majority on an issue like this?

Will Obama and the zealots working for him in the DEA snap out of their insanity on this issue?

The real "stone-brains" are those who continue to insist on imprisoning people for ingesting a substance that a majority of the people in this country think should be legal.

Posted by: Terry Swanson | Apr 5, 2013 1:44:08 PM

Terry Swanson --

"What will Bill Otis and the other crazed drug warriors say now?"

That you should either put down the bong or get a REALLY cool high by moving on to heroin.

C'mon Terry, don't be intimidated by "crazed drug warriors!"

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 5, 2013 1:55:37 PM

Pretty weak response from Mr. Otis.

Over the years, on this blog, he has ascribed significance to poll results that showed majority opposition to marijuana legalization. Now, as more and more people embrace an enlightened view, he clings to puritanical, outdated belief that he and his fellow dinosaurs know better than the rest of us what we should put in our bodies.

Posted by: Scarlett Rose | Apr 5, 2013 2:58:58 PM

Scarlett Rose --

Then I take it that you're in favor of the legalization of heroin, LSD, meth and the rest, is that correct? After all, I'm sure you wouldn't want to be among the "dinosaurs [who] know better than the rest of us what we should put in our bodies."

So are you for the legalization of those harder drugs, or not?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 5, 2013 5:16:33 PM

Bill Otis,

I certainly am in favor of pretty much across the board legalization, though I don't and never have use any drugs other than by prescription. As for prescription drugs the only substances I believe worthy of regulation are those like antibiotics where over time individual use changes how the substances works for everyone else.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Apr 5, 2013 8:31:24 PM

Soronel --

While I do not agree with your substantive position, I admire your consistency and willingness to say plainly what you think, with no ad hominem and no BS.

But Scarlett Rose has a question yet to answer: She says that only "dinosaurs [pretend to] know better than the rest of us what we should put in our bodies," but she has not yet said whether that view, which by its terms applies to ALL drugs, means that, in her opinion, we should legalize heroin, LSD, meth and the rest of them.

I hope she'll state her view, but I have this feeling I'd be foolish to expect a straight answer. Maybe she'll surprise me.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 5, 2013 10:35:13 PM

While I am generally in favor of legalization and regulation of narcotics, I don't see the hypocrisy in favoring legalization of marijuana and continued criminalization of LSD, meth, heroin, etc. It can certainly be argued from science that each drug has different effects on the body, is differently addicting, and has different effects on the socialization of users. We have determined as a society that addicting drugs such as tobacco, caffeine and alcohol are not so socially harmful as to require criminalization. It appears that a majority now believes the same for marijuana based both on personal experience and scientific study. My understanding is that there is good science that tells us that other drugs are far more harmful than these four and the majority of the public believes they should remain illegal. How is that inconsistent?

I happen to believe they should be legalized and regulated for public policy reasons which, for me, override the obvious risks of legalization or decriminalization. However, I certainly don't think that continued restrictions on some drugs should mean that all drugs require the same restrictions. If that were the case, then anyone who was in favor of MJ prohibition would also be required to be in favor of alcohol and tobacco prohibition. It's just a silly straw man.

Posted by: Ala JD | Apr 8, 2013 11:40:46 AM

I agree with Ala JD. For the reasons he states, it does not follow that if you favor legalization of marijuana, you must favor decrimininalization of heroin or meth. I adhere the to the maxim that the best is the enemy of the good.

Posted by: Michael R. Levine | Apr 8, 2013 2:19:58 PM

Michael R. Levine --

I always enjoy your posts.

"I agree with Ala JD. For the reasons he states, it does not follow that if you favor legalization of marijuana, you must favor decrimininalization of heroin or meth."

That depends on the reason one advances for favoring the legalization of pot. If the reason is that pot is less harmful than other drugs, you are correct. But if the reason is the one advanced by Scarlett Rose -- that "only dinosaurs [pretend to] know better than the rest of us what we should put in our bodies" -- you are incorrect. If the decision to put substance X into your own body rests exclusively with the person whose body it is, then it makes absolutely no difference whether the substance we're talking about is pot or meth. The government has no business criminalizing either (or anything).

"I adhere the to the maxim that the best is the enemy of the good."

Sure, legalizing pot first is, strategically, and for PR purposes, the shrewd move. But my experience in public debate (and I've had several) is that the ploy immediately runs out of steam when I ask my opponent, "Do you envision legalizing pot as the first step toward your hope to legalize heroin and meth?"

The pot legalization lobby knows it cannot give (your) truthful answer to that question, because there is almost no public support for legalizing the hard drugs. So what I inevitably get is a dodge.

Maybe I should debate you so that the audience can see what real honesty looks like.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 8, 2013 11:05:05 PM

Bill: "Maybe I should debate you so that the audience can see what real honesty looks like."

...or arrogance.

Posted by: == | Apr 9, 2013 12:33:42 AM

== --

My reference to honesty was to Mr. Levine, brickhead.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 9, 2013 1:28:17 AM

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