Is US High On Pot Legalization?

Canada has been terrified of liberalizing our drug laws for fear of angering Uncle Sam. Ironically, the United States is now closer to legalizing pot than we are.

While the federal Conservatives in the Great White North are poised to bring in mandatory jail time for producing and selling illicit drugs, the sweet smell of drug reform is wafting across America. Wouldn’t that be a weird buzz? Canada as the uptight, anti-pot zealot and America as the laid-back, rational progressive.

In some states, the simple possession of marijuana has been effectively decriminalized (although more than 800,000 Americans were still arrested for pot possession last year). And in Alaska, possession of a small amount of weed in your own home is legal.

Thirteen states allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes. And a California legislator has introduced a bill to legalize the adult use of pot. He proposes a $50-an-ounce tax which would bring in an estimated $1.3 billion for the state, which has a staggering multibillion-dollar deficit.

Last week, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger acknowledged that it’s time to debate whether to legalize and tax marijuana.

Meanwhile, in Canada, the Conservatives’ proposed amendments include a mandatory six-month jail sentence for growing even one pot plant for the purpose of trafficking.

And our medical pot regulations are so complex — thanks to the constant tug of war between the government and the courts over how the scheme should be run — that no one really has a clue how it’s supposed to work.

Head to the rec room

It’s enough to make you want to head to the rec room to partake in the consciousness-altering substance of your choice.

A number of factors have converged to prompt the U.S. to seriously consider drug reform, says Bruce Mirken, of the U.S. Marijuana Policy Project, which advocates the legalization and regulation of pot.

Mainstream figures in politics and the media are talking about it, polls support legalized pot and there’s an increasing realization that Americans’ taste for drugs is fuelling the ultra-violent drug cartels in Mexico.

More than half of Americans surveyed in a recent poll commissioned by the conservative O’Leary Report, for instance, support legal pot.

“This is an issue where, all along, the public has been two or three steps ahead of the politicians,” says Mirken. “The public will basically drag the politicians kicking and screaming into the 21st century.”

The February photo of Olympic swimming dynamo Michael Phelps inhaling from a bong pretty much drew a “collective shrug” from Americans and Kellogg’s attracted more heat over the issue than Phelps because the company dropped his endorsement deal, adds Mirken.

Shifting attitudes

All in all, polling has shown pronounced shifts in public attitudes, he says. “Everybody is up to their eyeballs in budget deficits and there’s this realization that there’s an enormous industry out there that pays no taxes because we’ve indulged in the fantasy that we can just make it go away.”

It’s possible, he figures, that marijuana could be legal in the U.S. within a few years. “We may be near a … tipping point where marijuana prohibition is a bit like the Soviet Empire circa 1987-88,” he says.

“It was actually rotting from inside and it didn’t take very much for the whole structure to collapse.”

Americans seem to be finally admitting the futility of demonizing pot. Canadians? We await saner politicians.

– Article from The Edmonton Sun.