A front-page story in USA Today highlights the "growing popular acceptance of marijuana," as reflected in polls, ballot initiatives, and legislation. It notes that 14 states allow medical use of cannabis, while others are considering similar reforms; that the idea of reducing or eliminating criminal penalties for simple possession seems to be catching on; and that a large minority of Americans (more than 40 percent) say they support outright legalization, as do most Californians. "It's inevitable that there will be some kind of legalization of recreational marijuana," says California Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), sponsor of a legalization bill. "How and where it's going to happen I think is an open question, but I think a lot sooner than later."
The story strikes me as a bit too optimistic. It treats the Obama administration's policy shift on medical marijuana, the practical implications of which are far from clear, as a game-changing development, and it even goes so far as to portray drug warriors as the underdogs in this debate. "The momentum is not with us, and we understand that," says Michael Carroll, president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. "Things are not going our way, but that's not stopping us from speaking out about it." Pity the poor lonely prohibitionist, who can count among his allies virtually every politician in the country and the entire complex of drug war profiteers, from police, prosecutors, and prison guards to treatment specialists and propaganda producers. Still, the story itself, a remarkably calm discussion of the country's most popular illegal intoxicant by the country's most popular newspaper, is evidence of an important cultural shift.
The article quotes Jim Gray, the former California judge who recently discussed "the six groups that benefit from drug prohibition" on Reason.tv.