LOS ANGELES – More than a third of adults have smoked it – including the last three presidents. Dozens of songs and movies have been made about it.
Marijuana is no longer whispered about, nor hidden in back rooms and basements. It has come into the open in American life despite decades of prohibition and laws treating the drug as more dangerous than meth and cocaine.
When the New York Times’ editorial board called last weekend for the U.S. government to end its ban on weed – and let states decide how to regulate it – the newspaper reflected what a majority of Americans have told pollsters: Marijuana should be legal.
The status quo, according to advocates and even the president, has resulted in the disproportionate arrests of minorities and the poor.
“The social costs of the marijuana laws are vast,” the editorial said. “There were 658,000 arrests for marijuana possession in 2012, according to FBI figures, compared with 256,000 for cocaine, heroin and their derivatives. Even worse, the result is racist, falling disproportionately on young black men, ruining their lives and creating new generations of career criminals.”
These are not new arguments. But this time they come from the New York Times, not High Times.
Support for marijuana legalization has grown so rapidly within the last decade, and especially within the last two years, that some advocates and pollsters have compared it with the sudden collapse of opposition to same-sex marriage as a culture-redefining event.
Gallup has found more popular support for legalizing marijuana than for legalizing same-sex marriage.
In Gallup’s most recent survey on the issue, in 2013, 58 percent of respondents said marijuana should be legal – up from 46 percent a year earlier and 31 percent in the early 2000s. This spring, 55 percent said gay and lesbian couples should be able to marry.
In Washington state, where marijuana stores opened July 8, officials say it’s too early to draw many conclusions.
But Colorado, where legal sales began Jan. 1, has had some stumbles.
Sheriffs in neighboring states (where pot remains illegal) have complained they are arresting more drivers coming from Colorado with marijuana.
Fourth-graders have faced discipline after allegedly selling their grandparents’ legally purchased pot to classmates.
Some emergency rooms have reported treating children who accidentally ate edible marijuana. And two consumers may have had deadly reactions.
“Colorado is proving that legalization in practice is a lot uglier than legalization in theory,” said Kevin Sabet, president of the policy group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, who opposes legalization, citing reports of increased calls to poison centers for marijuana overexposure.