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Polls say people want legal pot

Pew Research Center poll says majority of Americans OK with legalization of marijuana

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“Reform the draconian marijuana laws.” That’s been the rallying cry of marijuana-reform advocates for decades.

It seems as if that cry has finally moved the argument to a Rubicon of change; exactly when we will cross it depends on those who can influence the debate. According to an April 2013 report by the Pew Research Center, for the first time in more than four decades of polling on the issue, a majority of Americans now favor legalizing the use of marijuana. The poll, which has garnered a lot of attention from the mainstream press, says 52 percent of Americans now believe that marijuana should be legal.

For years, the prevailing view on weed has been a dismissive one: that it’s a recreational drug enjoyed by the unmotivated and a gateway substance to harder drugs. Sadder still, a militarized approach toward its domestic eradication – including the incarceration of its users – has resulted in countless thousands of lives ruined by a hamstrung judiciary forced to impose mandatory minimum sentences in many states and billions of dollars spent on enforcement and imprisonment.

The story of how America came to this point is as old as the country itself. From our most revered founder, George Washington, who chronicled his cultivation of hemp (a species of the cannabis sativa plant which is closely related to marijuana, though not exactly the same), to the inclusion of cannabis by early 20th-century chemists in mixing medications, the story of America would be incomplete without including weed.

The first encroachment of government on the possession and use of marijuana began with the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act, which required the labeling of cannabis, and the amount contained, in over-the-counter remedies and food. Three decades later, Congress passed the Marijuana Tax Act in response to growing fear around the drug – a fear brought to you by Hollywood and its propaganda-laden masterpiece, Reefer Madness. The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 effectively outlawed pot; it didn’t criminalize possession, but save for those who paid an excise tax for certain authorized uses, it made it illegal for people to sell marijuana and hemp.

Thereafter, the assault on weed grew bolder: In 1951 Congress passed the Boggs Act, which established mandatory prison sentences for possessing and distributing drugs, including marijuana. Five years later, President Dwight Eisenhower signed into law the Narcotic Control Act, which established a minimum sentence of two to 10 years for a first-offense conviction of marijuana possession, and a fine of as much as $20,000.

But the most egregious assault on weed, and one that held public opinion in stasis for decades still to come, stems from the plant’s classification as a Schedule I drug by the federal government under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. The Schedule I classification states that “a drug or other substance has a high potential for abuse; the drug or other substance has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and; there is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision.” Other Schedule I drugs include heroin and the date-rape concoction GHB.

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