A new crime-data analysis has found that 241,000 people in Washington were arrested for misdemeanor marijuana possession over the last quarter-century, adding fuel to a campaign seeking to make this state the first to legalize recreational marijuana sales. The analysis estimates those arrests translated to nearly $306 million in police and court costs — $194 million of it the past decade. African Americans were arrested twice as often as whites for possession in Washington in the past 25 years, even though whites use marijuana more.
President Obama’s statement of tolerance toward legalized marijuana is welcome. The real question is not whether federal agents will go after users. In Colorado and Washington, the question is whether they will go after growers, processors and retailers that have been licensed under state law. It is whether the federal government will allow states to sanction businesses that keep accounts, pay taxes and follow state law.
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 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.
Far from being discouraged by shifts in public opinion, state laws and even within the Obama administration on the legalization of marijuana, federal drug agents are driven to "fight harder," said Drug Enforcement Administration chief Michele Leonhart. Leonhart, who criticized President Obama for comparing marijuana to alcohol during a closed-door meeting, suggested that voters in Washington state and Colorado were duped into legalizing marijuana. The Marijuana Policy Project is calling on the president through a Change.org petition to fire Leonhart.
Public opinion in the US appears ready for a truce in the war on drugs. A national survey by the Pew Research Center finds that support for the legalization of marijuana use continues to increase. Fully 75% of the public think that the sale and use of marijuana will eventually be legal nationwide. Just as most Americans prefer a less punitive approach to the use of drugs such as heroin and cocaine, an even larger majority (76%) think that people convicted of possessing small amounts of marijuana should not have to serve time in jail.
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has found itself under attack in Congress as it holds its ground against marijuana legalization while the resolve of longtime political allies — and the White House and Justice Department to which it reports — rapidly fades. How much the agency's stock has fallen was readily apparent in the House debate, when Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) denounced the agency's longtime chief.
America’s four-decade war on drugs is responsible for many casualties, but the criminalization of marijuana has been perhaps the most destructive part of that war. The toll can be measured in dollars — billions of which are thrown away each year in the aggressive enforcement of pointless laws. It can be measured in years — whether wasted behind bars or stolen from a child who grows up fatherless. And it can be measured in lives — those damaged if not destroyed by the shockingly harsh consequences that can follow even the most minor offenses.
The US Drug Enforcement Agency has now walked back statements it made about the trafficking of marijuana grown in the US to buyers in Mexico, after being met with skepticism by other law enforcement agents and experts and being pressed to divulge more information on the allegedly burgeoning problem. The claim that Mexican drug cartel members were taking US-grown weed and selling it at a premium to Mexican customers first emerged in a broader NPR report on the effects of legalized marijuana on the illicit drug trade.
As Obama embarks on the third year of his second term, here are some of the ways in which Obama has begun to deliver on his promises of a more rational, less punitive approach to psychoactive substances. Obama's most significant drug policy accomplishment may be letting states go their own way on marijuana legalization. Even if our next president is a Republican drug warrior, he will have a hard time reversing that decision, especially given the GOP’s lip service to federalism.