Darren Richardson

June 21, 2012

NOTE: This report was inspired by the current writing assignment for The American Pundit, but it is not eligible for the competition since the author helps administer the contest. Whether you agree or disagree with the author’s conclusions, please consider sharing your own opinion on this question and competing for the $250 Writing Assignment prize in the process.

In November, Coloradans will vote on legalizing marijuana. Recently, Rasmussen measured 56 percent support for legalization nationally. Has the time come to legalize cannabis for both recreational and medical usage? Why or why not?

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Is it time to legalize marijuana on a national level? If you believe in the old adage “better late than never,” the answer is a resounding yes. The Punditty Project falls squarely into the camp of those who believe that legalization is long overdue.

The tragic history of marijuana prohibition in America is one that has been told countless times to niche audiences, but has not yet worked its way into the mainstream narrative, although that appears to be changing. Laws against possession, use and cultivation of hemp/cannabis/marijuana involve scare tactics, willful ignorance, intimidation, racism, suppressed evidence and outright lies. Because of these misguided and sometimes deliberately cruel laws, a sad tale of lost opportunities and wasted lives begins to emerge, not because of the banned substance itself but due to the laws that made this versatile plant illegal in the first place.

Rather than rehash (no pun intended) historical information on cannabis sativa, a plant used in the botanical pharmacopeia of numerous cultures for thousands of years, this report features educational links and reading suggestions at the end, focusing instead on recent political history. Why it by no means offers an exhaustive account, it serves as a broad overview of marijuana politics at the presidential level over the past 35 years.

Early days of the Carter Administration

In 1977, fresh off his win over Gerald Ford and more than two years before the term “Iranian hostage crisis” became associated with his presidency, Jimmy Carter called for the decriminalization of marijuana. In doing so, he spoke a piece of wisdom that Colorado voters would be wise to bear in mind when voting this November: “Penalties against possession of a drug should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself; and where they are, they should be changed. Nowhere is this more clear than in the laws against possession of marijuana in private for personal use. We can, and should, continue to discourage the use of marijuana, but this can be done without defining the smoker as a criminal.”

President Carter was spot-on, of course, but for the most part, his message fell on deaf ears, at least when it came to passing or repealing legislation.

Ronald Reagan and beyond

With the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 and again in 1984, the time for any meaningful reform of marijuana laws passed for nearly a generation as Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign worked its way into the public mind and penalties for marijuana use increased.

By the time George H.W. Bush defeated Michael Dukakis in 1988, the country was in no mood to go back to the more permissive stance of the Carter Era. Even when the nation had a president who smoked marijuana but did not inhale and California voters legalized medical marijuana by passing Prop. 215 with roughly 56 percent approval in 1996, support for recreational legalization* remained around 30 percent nationally, not much higher than it had been in the 1970s and 1980s.

But that trend began changing in the early 21st century. It had been two generations since marijuana burst onto the 1960s popular culture scene, and by the 2000s, that meant two generations of Americans had learned, be it through personal experience or the experiences of close friends or family, that marijuana was not the “demon weed” earlier propaganda in favor of prohibition made it out to be. In fact, more people view it safer than alcohol and tobacco now, and medical research supports that view.

Obama’s hypocrisy on medical marijuana

Sadly, President Obama, apparently, is not among them. Although he campaigned on and was elected on the pledge to end the federal crackdown on cannabis in states that had legalized medical marijuana, the Justice Department, working in conjunction with the IRS, has actually increased the war on medical cannabis. This has forced patients – some of whom have terminal or life-threatening illness – into the black market to buy their medicine. Backlash against Obama’s hypocrisy may well be playing a factor in rising support for legalizing not just medical but recreational marijuana as well.

So what will the Colorado voters decide come November? One can only hope that in this dark time of unrest at home and abroad, of drones in the sky and health care gone to rot and an economy that’s barely holding together under the weight of so many bad decisions from days gone by, that Colorado voters will have the courage to do what no American president since Jimmy Carter has been bold enough to do: Point out the obvious mistakes in our marijuana laws and remove the penalties for possession that are more damaging to an individual than use of the drug itself.


*It should be noted that polling on medical marijuana consistently finds support at around 70 percent or better.

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Jimmy Carter’s Drug Abuse Message to the Congress, Aug. 2, 1977, The American Presidency Project

Record high 50 percent of Americans favor legalizing marijuana, gallup.com, Oct. 17, 2011

56 percent favor legalizing, regulating pot, Rasmussen Reports, May 17, 2012

Adults see alcohol, tobacco as riskier than marijuana, Cannabis Culture, Aug. 3, 2010

61 percent in Colorado favor legalizing, regulating marijuana, Rasmussen Reports, June 9, 2012

High support for medical marijuana, ABC News, Jan. 4, 2010



Drug Policy Alliance

History of cannabis prohibition, legalize.org

High Times


Business Alliance for Commerce in Hemp (BACH)


Marijuana Policy Project (MPP)


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