Will America see marijuana legalization in our lifetime?

A new poll finds that for the first time in over forty years, a clear majority of people are now in favor of the legalization of marijuana. But will we see legalization in our lifetime?

The survey, which was conducted by Pew Research Center, found that 52 percent of people nationwide favor legalizing pot, while 42 percent oppose it.  Support for legalization has increased 11 points since 2010.  Meanwhile, only 12 percent supported legalization in 1969, and 84 percent were against the policy.

The Pew poll also found that 72 percent of Americans believe that moves by the feds to enforce marijuana laws are not worth the cost. And 60 percent of those surveyed say the federal government should not enforce marijuana laws in states that allow legal use.

Politicians need to catch up with voters

Younger people are most in favor of legalization, including 65 percent of Millenials (born since 1980), 54 percent of Generation X (born between 1965 and 1980), and 50 percent of Baby Boomers.

“It’s time for politicians to catch up to the voters on this issue. Not too long ago, it was widely accepted in political circles that elected officials who wanted to get re-elected needed to act ‘tough’ on drugs and go out of their way to support the continued criminalization of marijuana,” said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority. “The opposite is quickly becoming true. A majority of Americans support legalizing marijuana, and you’re going to start seeing more politicians running toward our movement instead of away from it, just as we’ve seen happen with marriage equality recently.”

As is the case with same-sex marriage, the tide seems to be turning on public attitudes on marijuana.  For the black community, with so many young people incarcerated for possessing small quantities of the drug, the stakes are high.

The war on drugs appears to be lost

Regardless of political persuasion, many people have concluded the war on drugs has been an abysmal failure.  Further, this war has fueled the nation’s prison boom, making the U.S. the world’s largest jailer at around 2.5 million prisoners.  More than 60 percent of these inmates are racial and ethnic minorities, and the drug war has devastated poor, black and Latino communities.

In recent years, about half of people in federal prisons and one-fifth of state prisoners are serving time due to drug offenses.  Marijuana-related violations account for 12 percent of drug offenders behind bars.  Voices in the black community are speaking out.

“It’s just the stupidest law possible,” said actor Morgan Freeman.  “You’re just making criminals out of people who aren’t engaged in criminal activity. And we’re spending zillions of dollars trying to fight a war we can’t win! We could make zillions, just legalize it and tax it like we do liquor. It’s stupid.”

“These flawed drug policies that have been mostly enforced in African-American communities must be stopped and replaced with evidenced-based practices that address the root causes of drug use and abuse in America,” said Ben Jealous of the NAACP.

“I’m going to battle on this,” said Newark mayor Cory Booker. “We’re going to start doing it the gentlemanly way. And then we’re going to do the civil disobedience way. Because this is absurd. I’m talking about marches. I’m talking about sit-ins at the state capitol. I’m talking about whatever it takes… The drug war is causing crime. It is just chewing up young black men. And it’s killing Newark.”