Poll: 94 Percent of Americans Oppose Jail Time for Marijuana

May 29th, 2013

The War on Drugs fundamentally challenges American liberty. What was once the “land of the free” has now become the land of zero tolerance. The US leads the world in per capita incarceration rates, meaning our nation jails more of its own people than any other, including those run by known dictatorial regimes.

On the other hand, attitudes towards drug prohibition are shifting, as more and more Americans realize that addiction is a health problem, rather than a criminal justice issue. States are beginning to legalize marijuana, either for medicinal or recreational use, and municipalities are working to reduce criminal penalties associated with the plant. According to a new Reason-Rupe poll, a tipping point has been reached as 94% of Americans now oppose jailing their fellow citizens for marijuana possession. Let’s discuss the implications after the jump.

Policy Lags Behind Public Opinion

The bigger the government, the slower it responds to changes in the public mood. This is why states’ rights were viewed as crucial in the design of the US government. State legislatures can respond quickly to voter sentiment and have done exactly that on the issue of marijuana. 23 states have already reduced criminal penalties associated with cannabis to some degree, with many of them also having legalized it for either medicinal or recreational use.

Several more states have similar bills under consideration by legislators as well. Soon, over half of US states will have taken action on this issue. Meanwhile, the federal government continues to prosecute marijuana cases even in those states that have legalized certain types of use, cultivation, and distribution.

Should 6% of the Population Dictate the Health Decisions of the Other 94%?

According to the new Reason-Rupe poll, 6% of Americans support jailing their fellow citizens over possession of marijuana. The margin of error on this one could put support as low as 2%. Meanwhile, states which have legalized it to some degree have noted a significant decrease in traffic fatalities. It’s possible that the number of lives saved due to the decrease in drunk driving accidents noted in pro-marijuana states might outnumber the total number of individuals who want to see people jailed for possession.

Ultimately, a tiny percentage of the US population still supports putting people behind bars for possession of marijuana. Public opinion has officially shifted on this issue. It’s time for the federal government to step aside and let states decide what substances to make legal. The federal War on Drugs should end, and all of its enforcement agencies should be disbanded permanently. The Constitution left most crime-and-punishment issues at the state level for a reason.

Reason’s new poll demonstrates that a tipping point has been reached when it comes to public opinion about the decriminalization of marijuana. 94% is describable as virtually everyone. It’s within the margin of error of 98%.

Ultimately, polls like these encourage politicians to change their stances on the issues. After a showing this dramatic, federal legislators may start speaking out on behalf of marijuana decriminalization. The incoming Los Angeles Mayor recently came out in favor of full legalization of marijuana, which is itself a major and recent shift of a similar nature.

For equipping politicians with the political cover to change their stance on this important issue, the 94% of Americans who oppose jail terms for possession of marijuana are this week’s Rebel of the Week winners.

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About the Author: Barry Donegan

is a singer for the experimental mathcore band , a writer, a self-described "veteran lifer in the counterculture", a political activist/consultant, and a believer in the non-aggression principle.