Beginning in the 1980s, many critics of the American criminal-justice system complained that the penalties for possession of crack cocaine, a drug most often used by poor blacks, were much harsher than the penalties for possession of powder cocaine, whose users were typically affluent whites. The implication was that the harsh anti-crack penalties, initially imposed in the eighties, were rooted at least partially in racism. – Crack vs. Powder Cocaine
For four decades, libertarians, civil rights activists and drug treatment experts have stood outside of the political mainstream in arguing that the war on drugs was sending too many people to prison, wasting too much money, wrenching apart too many families — and all for little or no public benefit.
They were always in the minority. But on Thursday, a sign of a new reality emerged: for the first time in four decades of polling, the Pew Research Center found that more than half of Americans support legalizing marijuana.
That finding is the result of decades of slow demographic changes and cultural evolution that now appears, much like attitudes around marriage equality, to be accelerating. More and more people, including Pat Robertson and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), are rejecting the tough-on-crime rhetoric so long directed toward drug use.
But in its latest budget, the White House still requested $25.6 billion to combat drug use just at the federal level, with well more than half of that going toward a strategy centered around law enforcement. The drug war has helped swell America’s prison and jail population to 2.2 million people — meaning that a country with five percent of the world’s population contains one quarter of its prisoners.
A recent HuffPost/YouGov poll found that few Americans think these efforts have been worthwhile. Only 19 percent of respondents to that poll said that the war on drugs has been worth the costs, while 53 percent said it has not been. That discomfort with the drug war was shared by respondents across the political spectrum.
The question now, experts and advocates say, is just how quickly Washington will catch up to public opinion, and what that shift will mean for the war on drugs and the criminal justice system in general.
The answer could have tremendous ramifications abroad – 10,000 people die drug war deaths every year in Mexico – and at home in the United States.
DEMOGRAPHY IS DESTINY
Much of the movement in public opinion toward marijuana use has been driven not necessarily by the arguments drug reformers have made for years — that it is safer than alcohol, that we waste too much money on incarceration, that drug use is a victimless crime — but by simple generational change, said Robert Blendon, a professor of health policy and political analysis at Harvard University.
“Younger generations are much more supportive of having choices, they’ve had much more experience with it, and also in general on many social issues, people are getting more libertarian, more open to less restriction,” he said.
When Blendon studied public opinion on the drug war in the mid-1990s, the results were clear: although the American public believed the drug war was failing, they still thought of using drugs as morally wrong and worthy of punishment.
It was a time when Nancy Reagan’s maxim — just say no to drugs — was still treated as gospel. But two decades later, Blendon said, there are simply too many people who have tried marijuana themselves to believe in that.
According to the Pew survey, 48 percent of Americans say they have smoked weed themselves, up 10 percent from a decade ago. Fifty percent of Americans, meanwhile, say smoking marijuana is not a moral issue, compared to 32 percent who believe that it is. That’s a mirror image of the 50 percent moral opposition and 35 percent indifference Pew found just seven years ago.
The shift has come fast, Pew found. In just the past three years, pro-legalization sentiment has spiked 10 percent. And a relatively new phenomenon has emerged: it’s not just liberals or libertarians speaking out. Increasingly, it is the names most identified with conservatism.
- Drug War Reform Webinars – Register Today! (txwclp.org)
- View: Marijuana Won the War on Drugs (drudge.com)
- Bigger busts mean drug war is failing (blogs.vancouversun.com)
- Brad Pitt: America’s war on drugs is a charade, and a failure (guardian.co.uk)
- Marijuana Has Won The War On Drugs (dailyqueernews.wordpress.com)
- There is a reason why we have a war on drugs and why we cannot win it… ” HealthThinkShop (policyabcs.wordpress.com)
- Jonathan Green | Drug Justice (tuftsdaily.com)
- War on Drugs Won By Marijuana? Business Insider Says Yes (sfist.com)