Skip to main content

Americans agree: Marijuana shouldn't be criminalized

By Allen St. Pierre and Paul Armentano, Special to CNN
updated 10:42 AM EDT, Mon August 12, 2013
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
updated 9:56 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Ukraine's president says the downing of MH17 was a terrorist act, but Richard Barrett says it would be considered terrorism only if it was intentional
updated 4:15 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Robert McIntyre says the loophole that lets firms avoid taxes should be closed
updated 3:28 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Aaron Miller says Kerry needs the cooperation of Hamas, Israel, Egypt and others if he is to succeed in his peacemaking efforts
updated 11:35 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Jeronimo Saldana and Malik Burnett say Gov. Perry's plan to send National Guard to the border won't solve the escalating immigration problem.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Sally Kohn: The world's fish and waters are polluted and under threat. Be very careful what fish you eat
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Les Abend says threat information that pilots respond to is only as good as the intelligence from air traffic controllers. And none of it is a match for a radar-guided missile
updated 8:35 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
updated 8:27 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
updated 7:57 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
updated 10:17 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
updated 9:50 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
updated 11:07 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
updated 1:55 PM EDT, Sun July 20, 2014
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
updated 3:53 PM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
updated 3:33 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
updated 6:11 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
updated 3:14 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
updated 8:06 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
updated 8:14 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
updated 4:16 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
updated 12:01 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
updated 1:29 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
updated 2:04 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
updated 11:18 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
updated 9:24 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT