DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: America’s 40-year crawl toward legalization of marijuana is picking up speed. Twenty-six states have taken steps toward legalization, some quite bold. Just last week, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper made one of the biggest moves yet, signing a package of bills addressing how marijuana will be grown, sold, taxed, and used. The measures, which follow Colorado voters’ approval of legalization last fall, form the cornerstone of the nation’s first fully legal market for pot. Come Jan. 1, Colorado residents over 21 will be allowed to buy marijuana at retail stores and smoke it for their pleasure. The state of Washington, where voters also passed a referendum to legalize marijuana, will be next. If all goes well with those pioneering efforts, it may be only a matter of time before more states follow.
Proponents say Americans should be allowed to smoke cannabis as a matter of basic personal freedom, adding that a society that enjoys legal whiskey, beer, wine, and tobacco has no business outlawing a recreational drug like pot that has fewer unhealthy side effects. After all, tens of millions of Americans enjoy smoking marijuana, if illegally.
It’s Prohibition all over again. That Gatsby-era law gave rise to the Mafia, rampant crime, and in the end, increased drinking. As Rep. Steve Cohen (D., Tenn.) put it recently, “This is the time to remedy this prohibition.”
Plenty of people agree. The Pew Research Center recently found that 52% of Americans support legalized possession of small quantities of marijuana. It was the first time a national poll produced a majority against pot prohibition, although the Gallup Poll and other national polls are coming close. The Pew survey found that nearly every group in the country is part of the gradual change in public attitudes — men, women, whites, blacks, rich, and poor.