Skip to main content

Americans agree: Marijuana shouldn't be criminalized

By Allen St. Pierre and Paul Armentano, Special to CNN
August 12, 2013 -- Updated 1442 GMT (2242 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Allen St. Pierre, Paul Armentano: Ground has shifted in favor of legalizing pot
  • They say Americans think enforcement is too costly
  • Writers: Polls shows more in U.S. favor legalizing pot for adults
  • Writers: Pot legalization is not a matter of "if," it's a matter of "when"

Editor's note: Allen St. Pierre is the executive director and Paul Armentano is the deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws in Washington. Watch Dr. Sanjay Gupta's documentary "Weed" at 8 p.m. ET August 11 on CNN.

(CNN) -- Despite decades of propaganda from marijuana prohibitionists, a majority of the American public has indeed said "enough" to the policies of cannabis criminalization. And no amount of fear-mongering is going to change this fact.

Writing in a just-published report by the Brookings Institute, "The New Politics of Legalization," authors E.J. Dionne and William Galston conclude, "In less than a decade, public opinion has shifted dramatically toward support for the legalization of marijuana. ... Demographic change and widespread public experience using marijuana imply that opposition to legalization will never again return to the levels seen in the 1980s. The strong consensus that formed the foundation for many of today's stringent marijuana laws has crumbled."

Indeed it has. Never in modern history has there existed greater public support for ending the nation's nearly century-long experiment with pot prohibition and replacing it with a system of legalization and regulation. The proof is in the polls.

Allen St. Pierre
Allen St. Pierre
Paul Armentano
Paul Armentano

For example, according to a May 2013 Reason Magazine-Rupe nationwide survey, conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, more than nine out of 10 U.S. adults say that people who possess or consume small quantities of cannabis should not face jail time.

Also last month, a May 2013 nationwide Fox News telephone poll, conducted by under the direction of Anderson Robbins Research and Shaw & Co. Research, reported that 85% of voters support allowing adults to use cannabis for therapeutic purposes. The total is an increase in support of 4 percentage points since Fox last polled the question in 2010 and is the highest level of public support for the issue ever reported in a scientific poll.

Opinion: Legalizing marijuana a boon to potheads

Then there is this: An April 2013 national survey commissioned by the Pew Research Center reports that 72% of Americans now believe that "government efforts to enforce marijuana laws cost more than they are worth," and 60% say the government should no longer enforce federal anti-marijuana laws in states that have approved its use.

And this: According to a December 2012 Angus Reid national sampling of U.S .voters, 66% say that they expect cannabis to be legal within the next 10 years.

And finally there's this: recently published polls by Gallup, Pew, Quinnipiac University and Public Policy Polling all find that far more Americans now favor legalizing marijuana for adults than believe in its continued prohibition. Why? The answer has become obvious. The ongoing enforcement of cannabis prohibition burdens taxpayers, encroaches upon civil liberties, engenders disrespect for the law, impedes legitimate scientific research into the plant's medicinal properties, and disproportionately impacts communities of color. Furthermore, the criminalization of cannabis simply doesn't work.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta changes mind on weed
Dr. Gupta: I was wrong about weed
Dr. Sanjay Gupta: I've tried marijuana

Despite more than 70 years of federal prohibition, Americans' consumption of and demand for cannabis is here to stay. Voters' recent passage of legalization measures in Colorado and Washington acknowledges this reality. Such laws seek to take control of the marijuana market from untaxed criminal enterprises and, to impose common-sense regulations governing cannabis' personal use by adults and licensing its production.

Unlike the federal government, which continues to define cannabis as an illegal commodity that is as dangerous as heroin, voters recognize that a pragmatic regulatory framework that allows for limited, licensed production and sale of cannabis to adults but restricts use among young people best reduces the risks associated with its use or abuse.

Gupta: Why I changed my mind on weed

Marijuana regulations can allow governments to establish legal parameters for where, when, and how markets operate. They can provide oversight of who may legally operate in those markets and provides guidelines for best practices. Society would clearly benefit from this. Only criminals and cartels benefit from the unregulated environment.

Maybe an even more persuasive if not entirely counter-intuitive argument in favor of legalization as a means to actually deter youth use is found in recently released Gallup polling indicating a dramatic reduction in youth cannabis use rate as there is a surge in favor of cannabis legalization from virtually all segments of American society.

It is time to end our failed policies on marijuana criminalization and replace them with ones that regulate the cannabis market and allow for its private consumption by adults.

Marijuana legalization is no longer a matter of if; it's a matter of when.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Allen St. Pierre and Paul Armentano.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1941 GMT (0341 HKT)
Stuart Gitlow says pot is addictive and those who smoke it can experience long-term psychiatric disease.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1645 GMT (0045 HKT)
Gabby Giffords and Katie Ray-Jones say "Between 2001 and 2012, more women were shot to death by an intimate partner in our country than the total number of American troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined."
July 29, 2014 -- Updated 2357 GMT (0757 HKT)
Alan Elsner says Secretary Kerry's early cease-fire draft was leaked and presented as a final document, which served the interests of hard-liners on both sides who don't want the Gaza war to stop.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1158 GMT (1958 HKT)
Vijay Das says Medicare is a success story that could provide health care for everybody, not just seniors
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1818 GMT (0218 HKT)
Rick Francona says Israel seems determined to render Hamas militarily ineffective.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1743 GMT (0143 HKT)
S.E. Cupp says the entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner thinks for himself and refuses to be confined to an ideological box.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
A Christian group's anger over the trailer for "Black Jesus," an upcoming TV show, seems out of place, Jay Parini says
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 2028 GMT (0428 HKT)
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1939 GMT (0339 HKT)
Carol Dweck and Rachel Simmons: Girls tend to have a "fixed mindset" but they should have a "growth mindset."
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
A crisis like the Gaza conflict or the surge of immigrants can be an opportunity for a lame duck president, writes Julian Zelizer
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1822 GMT (0222 HKT)
Carol Costello says the league's light punishment sent the message that it didn't consider domestic violence a serious offense
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1251 GMT (2051 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says saggy pants aren't the kind of fashion statement protected by the First Amendment.
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1852 GMT (0252 HKT)
Margaret Hoover says some GOP legislators support a state's right to allow same-sex marriage and the right of churches, synagogues and mosques not to perform the sacrament
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1831 GMT (0231 HKT)
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1744 GMT (0144 HKT)
Priya Satia says today's drones for bombardment and surveillance have their roots in the deadly history of Western aerial control of the Middle East that began in World War One
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1635 GMT (0035 HKT)
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1555 GMT (2355 HKT)
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
July 27, 2014 -- Updated 1822 GMT (0222 HKT)
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 2225 GMT (0625 HKT)
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1510 GMT (2310 HKT)
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1533 GMT (2333 HKT)
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1245 GMT (2045 HKT)
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1850 GMT (0250 HKT)
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1349 GMT (2149 HKT)
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 2205 GMT (0605 HKT)
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1142 GMT (1942 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1637 GMT (0037 HKT)
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1630 GMT (0030 HKT)
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1209 GMT (2009 HKT)
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT