Marijuana Backers Hope Legalization Efforts Grow Like Weed
On Nov. 4, Oregon, Alaska and Washington, D.C., all take up whether to change state laws to legalize recreational use of marijuana by adults. The moves mirror the beginning to a change in a policy going back to the 1920s. The politics of pot have changed, and many politicians on both the right and left are finding they can address the topic without necessarily facing an office-ending backlash.
Harsh reactions to marijuana began when Mexican immigrants brought recreational use with them in the early 20th century, according to "Frontline." Antagonism only increased during the Depression, when the immigrants were seen as threats to scarce jobs and research linked use with "violence, crime and other socially deviant behaviors, primarily committed by 'racially inferior' or underclass communities." Twenty-nine states banned its use by 1931.
The 1936 film "Reefer Madness" displayed greatly exaggerated examples of marijuana-induced behavior. By the next year, Congress effectively criminalized the use.
In 1944, a New York Academy of Medicine study refuted earlier research and said that marijuana did not lead to violence, sex crimes or other problems. But by that time, the substance already had a strongly reinforced bad reputation and had become a topic of concern for the criminal justice system and politicians who wanted to appear supportive of law and order.
Perhaps as a reaction to the 1960s counterculture, in the 1970s and 1980s, regulation and criminal penalties became far more severe.
But things have changed radically. Not only have some states already passed full legalization, but, as Colorado has shown, recreational marijuana use can be a profitable source of tax revenue, according to the Washington Post. A federal court is about to hold a rare hearing on whether the national ban is supported by the latest scientific evidence, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky supports decriminalization of marijuana, according to CNBC. As libertarians in the party gain power, support for continued treatment of marijuana as a dangerous drug weakens. Democrats can also support legalization measures without the fear of being seen as soft on crime. Special interest groups have undertaken marketing campaigns, says WCSH-TV. In addition, the marijuana trade is increasingly turning into an established industry, with money to spend on lobbying and campaigning.
That's not to say opposition will fall away quietly. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration recently worked with Denver police to raid multiple marijuana growing operations around Denver and seize plants, money, and cars. One way or the other, marijuana is apparently profitable.