For the first time in more than 40 years, a record high number of Americans approve of legalizing marijuana. A Gallup poll released this week showed that 50 percent of us think marijuana should be made legal, while 46 percent do not. A slim but significant majority, say jubilant legalization activists. Meaningless, counter pot opponents. “In a democracy, the majority should rule, and I expect our political leaders to respond,” said Tom Gallagher, a criminal lawyer and an officer with the Minnesota chapter of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws).
“People are realizing that we’re spending hundreds of millions and arresting almost a million people a year, and we’re not stopping marijuana use, only enriching criminals,” said Morgan Fox, communications director for the D.C.-based reform lobby Marijuana Policy Project. Regionally, the Midwest was second only to the West in highest approval numbers (54 percent). Not surprisingly, people 18 to 29 were most in favor (62 percent) and those 65 and older least in favor (31 percent). More men than women were in favor. Politically, people who identified themselves as moderates, independents or Democrats all came in at 57 percent, with Republicans at 35 percent.
The legalization approval numbers have been inching up more or less steadily since Gallup first started asking the question in 1969, and have seen a more marked uptick in the past few years. Yet lawmakers generally have not changed their positions against it, although some states have passed laws allowing medical marijuana use and made arrests for possession of a small amount a low priority. Tom Heffelfinger, a former U.S. attorney for Minnesota and longtime opponent of legalization, doesn’t think a shift like this will change anything. “Marijuana is and always has been an entry-level drug, which has always been one of the rationales [for keeping it illegal],” he said. “There doesn’t appear to be strong support for the proposition even in states where they pass medical marijuana.”
In Minnesota, Rep. Tom Rukavina, D-Virginia, introduced a bill to legalize marijuana used for medical purposes in 2009. “Minnesotans should have the right to vote on the issue,” he said. “We need to take a serious look at what the impact would be, saving money or costing money. We now have three generations of people who have been exposed to it and don’t have a problem with it.” Rukavina’s bill passed both houses with bilateral support, but was vetoed by then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Rukavina said he may try again with a new governor in office.
Gallagher expects widespread legalization measures to occur in his lifetime. But friends of Mary Jane shouldn’t grease those brownie pans just yet. The Minnesota Department of Public Safety remains opposed to the decriminalization, said spokesman Andy Skoogman. “We don’t believe legalizing the drug would benefit public safety,” he said. And President Obama and federal prosecutors cracked down on medical marijuana dispensaries in California last week.
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