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October 29, 2012

"The End of Laughing at Marijuana Reformers"

The title of this post is the headline of this new piece at The Atlantic, which gets started this way:

Voters in Colorado, Oregon and Washington will decide on election day whether to legalize marijuana in their states. All three initiatives have a chance of passing, and two are ahead in polls. In Massachusetts and Arkansas, voters may legalize medical marijuana. And last year, a Gallup poll found that a majority of American voters supported legalizing marijuana for the first time.

The political taboo against marijuana has been fading for awhile. When Bill Clinton admitted he'd smoked weed as a college student, he felt the need to add that he hadn't inhaled, and observers still wondered if it would cost him votes. Barack Obama admitted that he did inhale as a college student. Yet his personal history with narcotics hasn't stopped him from presiding over a draconian War on Drugs and responding to several questions about drug reform with jokes.

It's hard to believe dismissiveness of that sort can last much longer. A state measure legalizing marijuana would signal a huge shift in public opinion and force the federal government to react. And whatever happens at the ballot box this November, a clever nonprofit is highlighting the fact that more and more prominent people of diverse ideological backgrounds say reform is needed.

October 29, 2012 at 08:19 AM | Permalink


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"And last year, a Gallup poll found that a majority of American voters supported legalizing marijuana for the first time."

That statement is false at several levels. First, Gallup found 50% support (and 46% opposed). Fifty percent is not a majority. Second, the poll was of adults, not voters. Third and most important, the statement omits other polls of which the author was surely aware, polls that uniformly show either a majority or a plurality against legalization. See CBS, CNN, Pew, Newsweek and AP-CNBC, gathered here, http://www.pollingreport.com/drugs.htm

"Barack Obama admitted that he did inhale as a college student. Yet his personal history with narcotics hasn't stopped him from presiding over a draconian War on Drugs..."

That's because a President, unlike a college student, takes an oath to see that the laws be faithfully executed. But that's not the main point. There SHOULD BE a "draconian war" against the terribly destructive (and sometimes lethal) hard drugs, something the article does not deny. As to pot, there IS no "draconian war." Exactly how many people are doing time in the state or federal pen for personal use amounts of pot? Right: precious few. Personal use amounts are de jure illegal but de facto legal, as every college kid knows (and so does the author, I strongly suspect).

"A state measure legalizing marijuana would signal a huge shift in public opinion and force the federal government to react."

Did the legalizing of so-called medical marijuana in California sixteen years ago form the basis of a "huge shift in public opinion" that "forced" the feds to react? Nope -- the author is just making it up (which is why he cites no evidence).

And what is this "force" going to look like? The army of the stoned marching on Washington? And this is going to "force" what, exactly? For four years after the 2006 elections, the Democrats (who tend to be more favorable to pot) had total control of Congress. Did they repeal the CSA? Did they even attempt to repeal the CSA? Did they repeal any part of the CSA?

The article is just a doper's pipe dream. Like most pipe dreams, it glides past, distorts or omits the daunting facts the author wants to pretend aren't there.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 29, 2012 9:48:15 AM

There is a slow but steady change in attitude. People who have never used marijuana see the relationship between marijuana prohibition and alcohol prohibition and believe there is a better way to regulate this drug.

Posted by: beth | Oct 29, 2012 11:02:46 AM

If we want to be all particular, was it EXACTLY 50% or what? If it was 49.99, not majority. If it was 50.01, majority. I don't know what to make of the polls anyway. Who is polled? Are cell phones called? I know various people who either don't have a land line or don't use it personally. This seems to be a question that polls would lean conservative.

Also, some either/or thing as to legalization is somewhat unrealistic. Gov. Cuomo (NY) is pushing to end the state's public view marijuana law but that doesn't mean he is for full legalization. But, if the whole country treated keeping small amounts akin to a speeding ticket or such, that would be a pretty big shift. And, the other polls are notable, thanks, but if over 40% agree with something, it's pretty serious. The medicinal marijuana numbers are notable.

As to the 'war on drugs,' it is noted that drugs lead to some bad results. The war on some users of some drugs however doesn't necessarily actually help address such results, which for some users of some drugs are not 'solved' by criminalization in practice.

Posted by: Joe | Oct 29, 2012 11:39:14 AM

Joe --

"If it was 50.01, majority."

But it doesn't say it was 50.01, does it? Thus, the author's claim of a "majority" is not supported by the actual language of the poll he cites, is it?

In addition, no matter what questions you may have about polling, what possible excuse can there be for citing the one poll most favorable to the author's view, and ignoring five others, all from reputable organizations, adverse to him? Do you think that's honest?

"But, if the whole country treated keeping small amounts akin to a speeding ticket or such, that would be a pretty big shift."

No it wouldn't. It's been that way for years.

"And, the other polls are notable, thanks, but if over 40% agree with something, it's pretty serious."

Was McCain's 46% "pretty serious"? How so? Does the minority have a right to prevail in matters of legal policy over the majority?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 29, 2012 11:57:48 AM

The author also forgot to cite Rasmussen, which found in May that 56 percent of voters support legalization and regulation of marijuana.

Posted by: Thinkaboutit | Oct 29, 2012 12:15:06 PM

The older I get, the less I agree with conservative or liberal views. I find myself leaning more toward a Libertarian approach. In the same vane, the more I learn about the law and the history of this country (thanks to folks like Judge Andrew Napolitano), the more clearly I see the slant toward centralized government and federalism as a bad thing.

Don't get me wrong, I don't go as far as Ron Paul or his ilk on many issues. I do, however, agree with a Congressman Paul a lot more often than is popular to admit. I think that Americans should have the liberty to do just about anything they want, so long as those actions do not infringe on the liberties of others.

If an individual hurts themselves doing something stupid, they only have themselves to blame. If they hurt somebody else doing something stupid, they are 100% liable. In that respect, I believe and American should have the right to overdose on whatever drug they want (alcohol and McDonald's included). If this same American commits a property theft in order to pay for their addiction, that is a crime that should be punishable.

Maybe I just miss a lot of the civil liberties I used to believe I had.

Mr. Otis:

I have to say that 46% IS serious. I believe you would agree that this country is deeply divided on many political issues. If Senator McCain had received 10% of the popular vote, he wouldn't have been a serious contender for the presidency. As it was, he lost but showed that millions of Americans agree with his politics. As such, I think that a 50% figure from a poll in support of legalization effort is something to be taken seriously. I'll leave the semantics of 'majority' and 'minority' opinions out of my commentary.

Also, "Does the minority have a right to prevail in matters of legal policy over the majority?" The right may not exist, but the minority very often DOES prevail. Examples: special interests and everything the ACLU has every accomplished. (Please excuse my broad generalization, it just felt good to make). This may not be a de facto right, but it seems anecdotally to play out to be the way things go.

I have never done a single illicit drug in my life. I do, however, support the legalization and taxation of Marijuana. While I may not use it myself, I support other American's right to do so. And if polls show this much support, I see a vast change in the public perception of Marijuana laws than when I went through the DARE program 25 years ago.

Posted by: Eric | Oct 29, 2012 12:50:37 PM

Thinkaboutit --

Thanks for the info. My source, PollingReport.com, does not include Rasmussen, although it should, because his record (on elections anyway) is among the best.

Let me ask you (and beth and Joe) this: Why is legalization of pot an important question? There are lots of obviously important issues in public life just now, foremost among them looming national bankruptcy due to runaway borrowing and entitlements.

Is there anyone outside pot smokers and ideologues who really cares about dope? The normal adult with a job and a family, kids to educate and parents to watch out for, just has zero to do with pot. Doesn't smoke it, doesn't think about it.

Of all the freedoms overgrown government is jeopardizing right now, the "freedom" to get stoned is about as unimportant, indeed frivolous, as anything I can think of. We're not going to solve serious issues thinking about the trivial.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 29, 2012 12:53:50 PM

that may be true bill. But like the old saying goes any journey is started with one small step.

Going to be hard to tackle the big serious issues if we can't get the little shit out of the way.

Posted by: rodsmith | Oct 29, 2012 1:46:00 PM

personally i think we could end most of this with the passage of one simple law.

You have the right to do whatever you want as long as it does not intefere with anyone else.

As far as i'm concerned if you want to blow up your house...go for it. Just don't fuck up my yard when you do it.

Posted by: rodsmith | Oct 29, 2012 1:47:37 PM

Well, it's not really about the freedom to get stoned - it's about freedom. I think public opinion is changing because so many citizens have been impacted by drug laws. Everyone has a family member or friend or friend of a friend who has been arrested for non-violent drug offenses. Our prisons are full of non-violent drug offenders.

Marijuana smokers are not a stereotype. They are construction workers, accountants, teachers, lawyers and a vast number or ordinary people who go to work each day and take good care of their families. It's true that some are violent criminals, just as there are violent alcoholics. Marijuana users are much less likely to be violent or die from drug use than those whose drug of choice is alcohol or prescription drugs.

I know that many people believe that this has little to do with fiscal responsibility, but it does. Billions of dollars a year are spent on this war. It's true that there are many more pressing fiscal issues, but this one counts.

As people have come to see the criminal justice system up close and personal in the last 20 years they are rethinking the priorities of law enforcement. It probably also has something to do with what citizens think of their government in general. Those who work for the government tend to feel their agency's charge is vital, but other government bureaus are wasteful or corrupt. The ever smaller portion of the population that receive no government salary, grants or contracts evaluates the importance of government function and waste in a more critical way.

Posted by: beth | Oct 29, 2012 1:48:25 PM

I don't think it's a serious issue at all, especially since first-time, low-level users don't go to jail. There's obviously just a small but energetic minority that has made this an issue.

Posted by: Thinkaboutit | Oct 29, 2012 1:51:26 PM

I think the pull to legalize is to save dollars. Its generally known that mary Jane may not be worth the money to enforce it... Myself I think its a huge steppiong stone to hard drugs... Young kids smoke it, get someone to buy them alcohol, pretty soon you've got a kid or 2 that doesn't care bout anything except that.....I think thats where Bill and the Feds view point is.....If people just took a joint and went camping and had a whiff or 2... No biggee... But thats not what happen with drugs... It gets out of control easily and in the hands of youth does a lot of dmage...

Anyway, it would be nice to get rid of the drugs in Mexico that really hurts America..I think thats one of the outcomes for legalizing it... Avoid the Cartells and gangs cause there no longer is profit in dealing....

Posted by: Midwest Guy | Oct 29, 2012 2:14:43 PM

Thinkaboutit, beth, Joe, Eric, rodsmith, Midwest Guy --

I thank you all for your thoughtful and civil answers. It makes the board a pleasure to read.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 29, 2012 2:36:51 PM

Midwest Guy,
I think you are mistaken: in my experience first the kids get someone to buy them liquor and then they try the pot.

Posted by: mahtso | Oct 29, 2012 4:01:43 PM

BillOtis, your timing's off today. Have a look (or don't and write it off as an outlier) at http://www.salon.com/2012/10/29/ten_worst_sentences_for_marijuana_related_crimes/

These are recent. No mention of cases like the government's persecution of Peter McWilliams in the late 90s.

I'd say those college students you keep bringing up are the outliers.

Posted by: Bill K | Oct 29, 2012 4:50:03 PM

Bill K --

No serious person even doubts that it's exceedingly rare for someone charged with nothing but a small, personal-use amount of pot to get a prison sentence. Indeed, the very title of the piece you note, "Ten Worst Sentences for Marijuana Related Crimes," almost explictily admits that what the author is taking about ARE outliers. The ten worst cases of ANYTHING are outliers by definition.

Do you want me to define the overall competence of defense counsel by pointing to the "Ten Worst Cases of Ineffective Assistance"? Would that be remotely fair? Or accurate?

P.S. I would also note that the very first seven words in the article, "Most Americans want pot to be legal..." represent an outright falsehood, according to the numerous polls mentioned in the first comment on this thread -- polls you conspicuously do not dispute.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 29, 2012 6:12:23 PM

Bill, If marijuana were legal there would not be sentences for any non-violent marijuana offenders. A 10 year, 30 year or life sentence for marijuana would not be possible. Marijuana would not be an offense. Certainly none of these people would be in prison.

In addition, legalization would save tens of millions of dollars that we spend arresting people for simple possession. It's just not fiscally responsible.

Posted by: beth | Oct 29, 2012 7:28:26 PM

While increased taxes might be nice, it's so easy to grow that I don't think we'll see such a windfall. The real financial incentive is removing those millions from the gangs (pace Pablo!)

Posted by: Boffin | Oct 29, 2012 7:39:16 PM

beth --

I can think of little in life that is easier to avoid than getting imprisoned for pot. No legislation is needed for that. It just strikes me as a waste of concern to be holding the fort for people who could easily avert any problems just by taking what is plainly the healthy alternative in any event. One doesn't even need to "just say no." Don't say anything at all, and go forth with things in life that are rewarding and important. Pot is not either. It is for that reason that your average, normal adult doesn't have anything to do with it.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 29, 2012 7:43:01 PM

You could say the same thing about alcohol. In fact we did. We will control the use of soft drinks, trans fats, chimney smoke and cigarets.

It's hard for me to understand why government should make these decisions about our lives and behavior and spend money enforcing laws and regulations to control us.

You must have some thoughts about the growth of government. The criminal justice system has grown along with it for a reason. Personally, I miss the smell of burning leaves.

Posted by: beth | Oct 29, 2012 8:04:59 PM


While I agree with what you are trying to say, I do not want you to be the arbiter of what is normal, average, rewarding and important. More importantly, I don't want you or a sequestered group of vote prostitutes criminalizing a lot of behaviors because they MIGHT be harmful. Don't criminalize the Might, criminalize any actions which cause direct harm. Sale to minors could fall under the latter but little else. But, I also have trouble with the current definition of minors.

Posted by: albeed | Oct 29, 2012 10:34:10 PM

My thing is it does not matter what it is. If you can use it or do it without hurting others or stealing. Live it up!

If not. Forget it!

I get new employes who ask me all the time. Can we do this or that.

My answer is pretty simple. If you can do that and work. Live it up. Otherwise since i'm paying you to work...work!

Posted by: rodsmith | Oct 29, 2012 11:57:27 PM

For some perspective, more than 1.5 million people were arrested in the U.S. last year for "drug abuse violations".


That's about 12% of all arrests made in the U.S. Of those arrests, approximately 82% were for simple possession--that's about 1.2 million arrests for simple possession. Of the simple possession arrests, about 43% were for marijuana, which is about 538,000 people arrested for simple possession of marijuana.

According to the report, an "arrest" includes an arrest, summon, or citation.

Posted by: Chris Jenkins | Oct 30, 2012 11:57:58 AM

The real criminals are those who seek to imprison people for using marijuana.

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