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Public Opinion on Medicalizing Pot Approaches a Tipping Point

August 17, 2013, 12:30 PM

What's the Latest Development?

A string of high-profile legal events suggests that government institutions are beginning to bend to public opinion, which increasingly supports relaxing laws that categorically ban marijuana. Just this week, "Attorney General Eric Holder announced an initiative to curb mandatory minimum drug sentences and a federal judge called New York City's stop-and-frisk policy unconstitutional." New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who has strongly opposed legalization in the past, said he will make concessions on a new bill that favors medical marijuana. Last week, a Gallup reported that almost four in ten Americans supported outright pot legalization.

What's the Big Idea?

Another strong indicator that public opinion on marijuana is shifting is the tone of public debate. Rather than rehashing the tired Yes-versus-No argument, scientists and legislatures are entertaining more nuanced options: "Should 'grows' be large or small? What should the tax structure look like? Should potency be limited? Will the model involve for-profit companies? How will weed be distributed?" John Kane, a federal judge in Colorado, said he sees marijuana following the same path as alcohol in the 1930s. Toward the end of Prohibition, judges routinely dismissed violations or levied fines so trivial that prosecutors quit filing cases.

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