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Does America Have the Stomach for Legalization?

Submitted by smorgan on
Earlier this week, NYT columnist Nicholas Kristof used his Facebook page to start a lively conversation about legalizing drugs. This comment in particular caught my eye:

"I favor legalization/decriminalization in theory, but I wonder how a policy shift of such magnitude would play out in the real world, or if it's even possible," wrote Stephen Wittek. "A lot of deeply entrenched interests, opinions, attitudes and beliefs would have to uprooted or steamrolled, and a lot of people would scream bloody apocalypse. Regardless of whether or not it 'makes sense,' the question at the heart of issue is 'Does America have the stomach for legalization?' And I'm pretty sure the answer is 'no.'" [Huffington Post]

It's an interesting point and I would respond by asking whether America has the stomach (or the cash) to continue the war on drugs for another 10 or 20 years. The drug war has been falling out of favor with Americans for a long time now, but it seems the floodgates have burst open in recent months. It's gone from being an issue no one wanted to talk about to suddenly gracing the op-ed pages of major papers as a matter of routine. The fact that NYT's Nicholas Kristof wants in on the conversation is a perfect example of the issue's cascading momentum.

It's only a matter of time before the next Michael Phelps-level marijuana media frenzy explodes in everyone's face again and each time it happens, the calls for legalization reverberate louder than before. It's certainly true that "deeply entrenched interests, opinions, attitudes and beliefs" continue to shape the debate, but that's always the obstacle to any seismic shift in our political culture.

It can't happen overnight, but the surging drug policy dialogue that's emerged in recent months is a necessary and promising first step on the path towards long-term reform. For the first time since the drug war began, we're witnessing the White House score political points by toning down the tough talk and pandering to the public's widespread drug war fatigue. The new administration is not about to disarm their great drug war army, but they've established the premise that our current political climate no longer favors the war rhetoric and saber-rattling that have traditionally been considered obligatory by politicians and the press. It's a subtle, yet significant milestone.

In the end, there will always be paranoid parents, unscrupulous prison-industry profiteers and misguided moral crusaders doing their part to derail the discussion. But we've gotten this far in spite of them and we'll continue to press on. Remember, we don't have to "uproot or steamroll" our opposition, we just have to beat them by one vote.

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