The American people have clearly turned against the tactics and logic which have defined the nation’s decades long “War on Drugs” according to new Pew Research poll.
The poll found support for marijuana legalization continuing its steady increase with 54 percent of Americans now favoring legalization of recreational marijuana for adults compared to just 42 percent who want it to remain illegal.
This represents an over 15 point increase in support in just four years and the big generational divide on the issue indicates support should keep growing in the coming years. This is probably why 75 percent of Americans think marijuana will eventually be legalized nationwide.
Part of what could be driving this change is a realization that marijuana is clearly safer than alcohol. Overwhelmingly alcohol is seen as the more dangerous drug to individuals and society. Alcohol is seen as more harmful to a person’s health by 69 percent of Americans compared to just 15 percent who think marijuana is more damaging. Americans are naturally asking why marijuana is illegal but alcohol is illegal if marijuana is the safer substance.
This substantial shift in popular opinion about drug policy isn’t just limited to marijuana however. Back in 2001 the public was evenly divided on the issue of mandatory sentencing for non-violent drug crimes but today by a margin of two-to-one the public wants to move away from them. Even a plurality of Republicans and senior citizens think the government moving to reform them is a good idea.
Overwhelmingly the country also thinks we need to move from a law enforcement approach to a public health approach for dealing with illegal drugs. The poll found 67 percent think the government should be primarily focused providing treatment to people while just 26 percent think the government should mainly focus on prosecuting users.
Focusing on treatment has majority support among every age group, race, party affiliation, and education level. There is a realization we can’t arrest/jail our way out of the problem. This is not unfortunately how the federal government spends its money on drug policy, .
The American public is extremely far out ahead of the politicians on drug policy issues. It is time for our representatives to start listening to the electorate.
Jon Walker is the author of After Legalization: Understanding the future of marijuana policy