“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.
At least 14 states this year — some deeply conservative and Republican-leaning, such as Kansas — will consider legalizing pot for medical purposes or lessening the penalties for possessing small amounts for personal use. Fourteen other states and the District of Columbia already have liberalized their marijuana laws.
“We are absolutely in an important new era in which increasing majorities of Americans are not just questioning the wisdom and efficacy of marijuana prohibition but are demanding alternatives,” says Stephen Gutwillig, California director for the Drug Policy Alliance, which favors legalizing marijuana.
Kurt Gardinier, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, which promotes marijuana for medical use, calls Holder’s shift “one of the most significant changes in federal drug policy in the last 30 years. It puts states at ease that they won’t be in conflict with the federal government.”
The Obama administration still opposes smoking marijuana for its medicinal benefit, says Tom McLellan, deputy director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. He says more research is needed to deliver the medically useful ingredients in a non-smokable form.
“We have the safest medications in the world and it’s not a coincidence. We have an enviable process by which we approve medications, and that’s through the (Food and Drug Administration),” he says. “It’s a bad idea to approve medication by popular vote.”
Yet even a few prominent opponents admit it’s getting harder for them to persuade lawmakers to continue tough restrictions on marijuana, though they vow to continue fighting against legalization and warn of dire long-term consequences.
“The momentum is not with us, and we understand that,” says Michael Carroll, president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the police chief of West Goshen Township in Chester County, Pa.
The 20,000-member police chiefs association opposes legalizing medical marijuana and decreasing penalties for possession because it fears abusers will cause drugged-driving accidents and other societal and health problems that come with drug abuse. The National Institute on Drug Abuse says marijuana can cause heart irregularities, lung problems and addiction.
“We’re going to multiply the problems we have with alcohol abuse,” Carroll says. “Things are not going our way, but that’s not stopping us for speaking out about it.”
Among the states considering marijuana bills this year:
• Alabama, Delaware, New York, North Carolina and Pennsylvania, are debating allowing medicinal use of marijuana for people with certain illnesses;
• Hawaii and Rhode Island, are considering bills to reduce the penalties for marijuana possession to fines rather than jail time;
• Vermont is weighing whether to allow state-licensed liquor stores to sell medical marijuana.
Read the full article here: http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2010-03-08-marijuana_N.htm