In recent months, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder made several progressive moves on federal drug policy that represented a breakthrough. As we discussed in September, after four decades of a “war on drugs” that only moved in one punitive direction, the Justice Department chose a more sensible direction.
Many assumed that the pushback from Republicans would be considerable. After all, Democratic fears about appearing “soft” on illegal drug use has stunted policy progress for years. But in 2013, the Obama administration adopted a progressive posture, and the right didn’t much seem to care.
And why not? Because the larger effort to move public opinion appears to be already over.
Gallup reports today that for the first time, a clear majority of Americans (58%) support legalization of marijuana. When Gallup first polled on this question, in 1969, only 12% endorsed legalization.
The results are largely in line with research Pew Research Center published in April, when it found a narrow majority favoring marijuana legalization, too.
As we talked about at the time, there’s reason to believe that on a variety of social and cultural issues, Americans’ attitudes are changing rapidly, and in general, they’re moving in a progressive direction. This obviously includes issues like marriage equality, which moved to the American mainstream with remarkable speed and is now endorsed by most of the country.
The shift on marijuana has been more gradual, but the trend is nevertheless unmistakable. And if this shift can lead to a constructive conversation about revisiting drug laws and the incarceration of non-violent drug users, the country would benefit enormously.