Sunday, October 25, 2009

Are We Moving Toward Marijuana Decriminalization?

Published October 19, 2009 @ 04:20PM PT

It was a good day for marijuana reformers:

The Obama administration today clarified its already-sensible position on medicinal marijuana.

A judge ruled that the city of Los Angeles didn't follow state law when it banned new medical marijuana dispensaries.

And, a new Gallup poll (above) found support for legalization at a 40-year high in the U.S. at 44%. The poll over time is above, those two lines are moving mighty close together.

What does it all mean?

By putting this policy in writing, the Obama administration is directing federal prosecutors to focus on crimes involving violence and high-level trafficking. Although the language in today's memo covers only states with medical marijuana laws, it's a clear directive to all prosecutors out there: focus on what matters and don't waste time on victimless crime. An all-out drug war has failed for three decades, and the Obama administration knows it. This is by no means a gradual step toward legalization from the administration, I don't ever expect Obama to legalize pot. It's an acknowledgment that without clear priorities we waste valuable resources by locking up harmless citizens.

And the gradual increase in support for legalization among the general population also doesn't signal that pot will be legal in the near future. It does lay groundwork, however, for a continuation of decriminalization policies. I wrote recently that Massachusetts has seen little negative impact from its decriminalization this year. The Gallup poll found a clear majority (53%) in the western states support legal marijuana - expect to see decriminalization efforts take root next year in California and elsewhere.

Today's news is merely a step in the process, but it's a step toward more sensible drug policy and a criminal justice system that focuses on crimes with victims.

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