It should be increasingly clear by now that popular support for the so-called “war on drugs” declared by the late President Richard Nixon in 1971 has been waning while more and more people back the outright legalization or decriminalization of marijuana use.
This is confirmed by a new Sooner Poll, commissioned by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), which shows state support for the legalization of medical marijuana and the elimination of the possibility of jail for people charged with minor marijuana offenses.
When a poll conducted in a conservative state, such as Oklahoma, shows results such as these about marijuana use and laws it means people everywhere in this country are increasingly taking a common sense view about a substance (or, rather, a plant) that many people claim is less harmful than alcohol.
The poll found that 71 percent of voters here were in favor of allowing physicians to treat patients with marijuana. As NORML points out, 20 states and Washington, D.C. have already enacted such laws. Could Oklahoma become a medical-marijuana state? I believe it’s not only possible but could lead a mini-economic boom here as growers and sellers set up shop and start to pay taxes.
The poll also found that 57 percent of those responding agreed that marijuana offenses should be treated as “non-criminal, fine-only” cases. Both the states of Colorado and Washington have already legalized the recreational use of marijuana, and more states are sure to follow.
Here’s the overall poll results, which you can read for yourself. I want to focus on the larger implications of the poll.
As I mentioned earlier, people are becoming increasingly aware that the federal government has long distorted the reality when it comes to drug use, especially the use of marijuana, which when used moderately is far less harmful than alcohol. The government has rested its case on the fact that pot can be considered a “gateway” drug to other harder drugs for many people, but that simply ignores the millions of people who use cannabis responsibly and lead highly functioning lives.
Here’s a list of some “influential” former and current pot smokers, which includes our last three presidents and people like Bill Gates, who founded Microsoft.
It would appear that at this point the outright legalization of marijuana should be a no-brainer in this country, but I believe the propaganda and fear tactics used in the war on drugs has until now helped to temper public enthusiasm for it. One reason for the new enthusiasm is that by now it’s a widely shared belief that the war on drugs, raging for more than 40 years, has been a complete and utter failure. More than $30 billion has been spent on this ridiculous war so far this year alone, according to DrugSense, and 1.2 million people-more than 600,000 for cannabis use-have been arrested and nearly 8,000 people have been incarcerated on drug charges. That’s in one year, there’s still about three months to go and, let’s be real, drugs are as available on the streets as always.
It’s difficult to estimate how much money has been spent on the war on drugs overall since 1971-some say $1 trillion-but the money issue pales in comparison to how many lives have been ruined through incarceration for simple possession.
It’s difficult not to compare the war on drugs to an extended period of prohibition, endured by the country from 1919 to 1933, which criminalized the sale of alcohol. Prohibition didn’t produce temperance. It produced major crime syndicates and overwhelming hypocrisy, much like what we experience today with the war on drugs.
Let me also be clear on these points: People understand the vast difference between methamphetamine production and growing pot. Meth addiction, and REAL drug addiction in general, is a major problem, but treatment, not incarceration, is the answer. Some people may experience a dependency on marijuana, but there are no reputable, consistent scientific studies that show people become physically addicted to pot.
In Oklahoma, state Sen. Constance Johnson, an Oklahoma City Democrat, has been consistently thwarted by her colleagues when she has argued for reform of marijuana laws. Perhaps, this new poll will open some eyes at the Capitol.