By William M. Welchand Donna Leinwand, USA TODAY
LOS ANGELES — James Gray once saw himself as a drug warrior, a former federal prosecutor and county judge who sent people to prison for dealing pot and other drug offenses. Gradually, though, he became convinced that the ban on marijuana was making it more accessible to young people, not less.
“I ask kids all the time, and they’ll tell you it is easier to get marijuana than a six-pack of beer because that is controlled by the government,” he said, noting that drug dealers don’t ask for IDs or honor minimum age requirements.
So Gray — who spent two decades as a superior court judge in Orange County, Calif., and once ran for Congress as a Republican— switched sides in the war on drugs, becoming an advocate for legalizing marijuana.
“Let’s face reality,” he says. “Taxing and regulating marijuana will make it less available to children than it is today.”
Gray is part of a growing national movement to rethink pot laws. From California, where lawmakers may outright legalize marijuana, to New Jersey, which implemented a medical use law Jan. 19, states are taking unprecedented steps to loosen marijuana restrictions. Advocates of legalizing marijuana say generational, political and cultural shifts have taken the USA to a unique moment in its history of drug prohibition that could topple 40 years of tough restrictions on both medicinal and recreational marijuana use.
A Gallup Poll last October found 44% favor making marijuana legal, an eight-point jump since the question was asked in 2005. An ABC News-Washington Post poll in January found 81% favor making marijuana legal for medical use.
Attorney General Eric Holder last fall announced that raiding medical marijuana facilities would be the lowest priority for U.S. law enforcement agents — a major shift that is spurring many states to re-examine their policies. The American Medical Association recommended in November that Congress reclassify marijuana as a drug with possible medicinal benefit.
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