America is at a tipping point regarding the public’s desire for common-sense alternatives to marijuana prohibition. Never in modern history has there existed greater public support for ending the nation’s nearly century-long experiment with pot prohibition and replacing it with a system of legalization and regulation. The historic votes on Election Day in Colorado and Washington — where, for the first time ever, a majority of voters decided at the ballot box to abolish cannabis prohibition — underscore this new political reality.
But you wouldn’t know this fact by observing the recent political debate in Boise, where Senate lawmakers are considering legislation resolving to oppose any liberalization of the Idaho’s anti-marijuana laws — which classify simple cannabis possession as a criminal misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail, a thousand dollar fine, and a criminal record. Their actions are out of step with both public and political opinion.
Since January, lawmakers in seven states – Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont – have introduced legislation seeking to regulate the adult consumption of cannabis. In Congress, federal legislation – House Bill 499: The Ending Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2013 – also awaits action. Similar to how Congress ended alcohol prohibition, this measure seeks to de-federalize marijuana policy and create a framework for the retail cannabis production and sale in states that allow it.
Separate legislation is pending in 11 states to decriminalize marijuana possession offenses, a policy change that reduce penalties to a non-criminal infraction. (Fourteen states have already implemented such changes.) Another dozen states are also debating whether to authorize the consumption of cannabis for therapeutic purposes. (Eighteen states and Washington, DC have approved medical marijuana laws.) It’s no wonder. According to a December 20012 CBS News poll, 83 percent of Americans nationwide say that the law should allow for the physician-authorized use of cannabis for qualified patients.
But Americans’ support for cannabis law reform is not just limited to allowing for the medicinal use of marijuana. A December 2012 Public Policy Polling telephone survey of US voters found that 58 percent of the public believes that marijuana “should be legal.” Only 34 percent of respondents opposed the notion of legalizing cannabis. A post-election survey by the polling firm Angus Reid found that 54 percent of US citizens favor legalizing cannabis, and two out of three predict that marijuana would be legal nationwide within 10 years.
Even larger percentages of Americans believe that the federal government ought to get out of the marijuana law enforcement business altogether. According to a December 2012 nationwide Gallup poll, 64 percent of citizens do not believe that the federal government “should take steps to enforce federal anti-marijuana laws in those states.” A January poll conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International agreed. It found that over 70 percent of Americans believe that Washington, DC should butt out of the affairs of states that have legalized the plant.
In short, the days of ‘Reefer Madness’ are coming to an end. The question is: When will Idaho lawmakers get the message?
Paul Armentano is the Deputy Director for NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, and is the co-author of the book, “Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink?”