About November 2011
Last month the United States reached a milestone in the debate over cannabis’ place in our society. For the first time since it began asking the question, the Gallup polling organization recorded 50% support for legalizing marijuana sales to adults.
That number has been a long time in the making, as attested by our banner art this month; the trendlines show public support levels from 1970 to the present.
Why now? What’s changed lately to bring so many people around? And where are we going from here?
To discuss these questions, we’ve invited a quartet of marijuana reform activists to a roundtable discussion. Each will present an essay on a different facet of marijuana policy, and our conversation this month will be about political strategy, possible future trends, and the interplay among various sub-issues in the field.
Kicking things off will be Paul Armentano of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), writing about the biomedical aspects of cannabis and its prohibition. He will be followed by former Seattle police chief Norm Stamper, now with Law Enforcement Against Prohibition; Allen St. Pierre, the executive director of NORML, who will discuss public education and messaging; and Morgan Fox of the Marijuana Policy Project, who will discuss upcoming ballot initiatives and legislative developments.
Although each of the four is more or less in the same camp on this issue, each also brings to the table different experiences, different perspectives, and different areas of expertise. We hope you will find a discussion among them educational and thought-provoking.
- Cannabis’ Impact on Health Justifies Its Legalization, Not Its Criminal Prohibition by Paul Armentano
Paul Armentano begins our roundtable discussion with a review of the burgeoning literature on the safety of recreational cannabis and the unique effectiveness of cannabis for many medical purposes. Recent years have seen an outpouring of this type of research, which stands in stark contrast to the political consensus in Washington, which still favors criminalization.
Norm Stamper argues that when people see the true face of the War on Drugs, they are justifiably outraged. The average citizen can now take videos almost anywhere and then publicize what they’ve recorded. The result? YouTube clips of military-style police raids, in which the violence meted out seems vastly disproportionate to any possible wrongdoing by the suspects. Police have an important job to do in our society. They need the public’s respect if they’re going to succeed, and the War on Drugs is getting in the way.
Allen St. Pierre, the executive director of NORML, surveys the political landscape of cannabis Prohibition. He finds significant disparity between public opinion and federal policy; even so, state policies have been much more susceptible to change. Among many other suggestions, he urges advocates to confront the “fear factor” surrounding cannabis, to win more diverse political allies, and to be more open about being “pot tolerant.”
Morgan Fox argues that marijuana both can and should be integrated into the American economy and American civil society. He notes that while taxation and regulation of marijuana may be causes for concern among some growers and users, the “regulation” we have now is undoubtedly worse, because it means only criminals are allowed to grow the nation’s largest cash crop. With public support for legalization at 50%, he nonetheless acknowledges that politicians have been slow to adopt the issue, and federal Prohibition is still likely to last for quite some time.
Related at Cato
- Conference: “Ending the Global War on Drugs,” November 15, 2011
- “Drug Decriminalization in Portugal: Lessons for Creating Fair and Successful Drug Policies” by Glenn Greenwald
- “How the War on Drugs is Destroying Black America” by John McWhorter
- “It’s Time to Declare Peace in the War against Drugs” by Doug Bandow