There's no question, however, that American attitudes toward marijuana have changed. National polls show that Americans increasingly favor legalizing marijuana. More than 40 percent of Americans consistently supported legalization this year. Gallup surveys put that support at 44 percent now, up from 25 percent in 1995.
That's in line with global trends. Mexico and Argentina both have decriminalized small amounts of marijuana. A commission headed by three former Latin American presidents, including Brazil's, concluded this year that the "war on drugs" had failed, and said Europe's approach toward drug use as a public health matter was "more humane."
"[T]he criminal prohibition of marijuana is an abject failure," says Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws (NORML). Pro-legalization groups such as NORML argue that the United States wastes vast amounts of money and manpower chasing and locking up marijuana users, which could be used to go after hard-core drug traffickers.
"The criminal prohibition of marijuana has not dissuaded anyone from using marijuana or reduced its availability," says Mr. Armentano. What it has done, he says, is adversely affect "millions of people who simply elected to use a substance to relax.... It is time to amend criminal prohibition and replace it with a system of legalization, taxation, regulation, and education."