Recently, both Colorado and Washington State submitted their marijuana legalization initiatives with far more signatures than the required amount, while a myriad of others are considering medical marijuana initiatives. Activists in Michigan are also gearing up for a signature drive to amend the state constitution and end marijuana prohibition. In Arizona, a lawsuit filed by Gov. Jan Brewer (R) challenging the state’s recently approved medical marijuana law was recently dismissed, paving the way for the state to implement the law’s regulatory schematic.
Also, Colorado, Washington, Rhode Island, and Vermont have all asked the DEA to re-schedule marijuana from Schedule I – substances considered having no medical value – to Schedule II, which would enable doctors to issue prescriptions to patients. And in Florida, a federal judge declared the state’s drug law unconstitutional since it doesn’t require the mens rea be proven. If the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals affirms the decision, it could place a large number of drug convictions in doubt. These developments, just to name a few, may help 2012 become the best year yet for drug law reform.
It’s not as if the optimism isn’t justified; legalization advocates have a right to be giddy about the possibilities of 2012. While Americans already overwhelmingly favor legalizing medical marijuana, current support for full legalization is at record highs. Back in October, a Gallup poll found 50% in favor of legalizing marijuana, the first time support for full legalization ever reached the 50% mark.
Although public policy shouldn’t be based on the whims of public opinion, the poll results are most welcome. The American people are recognizing the absurdity of the government’s position on marijuana and the failure of the government’s fear mongering efforts. Perhaps the most interesting data within the poll is the wide range of support amongst various age cohorts, especially the 49% from ages 50 to 64. There are also state polls in Colorado showing voters favor legalization by a 49% to 40% margin, while voters in Washington State are split on the initiative.
A key variable favoring the 2012 measures is that this time around, unlike Prop 19 in 2010, it will be a presidential election year. Voter turnout will certainly be higher, especially amongst the young, when compared to an off-year election.
The newfound prevalence of drug policy discussions taking place in presidential debates and the mainstream media shouldn’t be overshadowed either, arenas where the issue is typically ignored. Specific contributions from Republican Presidential candidate Ron Paul and Libertarian Party Presidential candidate Gary Johnson helped propel the discussion of the drug war to the forefront. Both Paul and Johnson make drug policy reform a key component of their respective platforms, not to mention the vital advocacy work by a number of drug policy reform organizations.
As more people learn and understand the insidious effects of drug prohibition – crime cartels, corruption, black market violence on the Mexican border and in poor urban areas, disparate treatment of minorities, militarized police, mandatory minimums, out of control prison rates, and rampant civil liberties violations – the better.
Even if 2012 doesn’t turn out quite the way legalization advocate’s hope, it’s still important to remember the drug policy reform movement’s success over the last fifteen or so years. Based on the global drug policy conversation’s pivot during that time span, it’s exciting to think about the strides that can be made in the near future.
Shifting drug policy from interdiction and criminal justice approaches towards a more rational and humane method, namely legalization or (at the very least) decriminalization, will remain the long-term goal of the drug policy reform movement.
11 January, 2012
Drug Policy Examiner