Chronic City: New Poll Shows 52 Percent Nationwide Support Pot Legalization; Gov. Calls For Debate

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Lately, new cracks appear in the facade of marijuana prohibition on an almost daily basis, and this week is certainly no exception.

On Tuesday, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, undoubtedly aware of recent polls that show a solid majority -- 56 percent -- of Californians supporting the legalization of marijuana, called for an open debate on the issue, while still maintaining he doesn't personally support such a policy.

Then on Wednesday, in what is apparently the first reputable national poll to ever show a majority supporting legalization, results were released for a Zogby poll commissioned by the conservative-leaning O'Leary Report which indicate 52 percent of Americans nationwide agreeing with the statement "it makes sense to tax and regulate" marijuana.

The Significance of Arnie

While Schwarzenegger's Tuesday statement did receive a ton of press (it's unusual for a sitting governor to speak this openly on prohibition), it was really quite mild in terms of what was actually said.

"Well, I think it's not time for [legalization], but I think it's time for a debate," Schwarzenegger said, according to UPI. "I think all of those ideas of creating extra revenues, I'm always for an open debate on it. And I think we ought to study very carefully what other countries are doing that have legalized marijuana and other drugs, what effect did it have on those countries?"

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Ah, the '70s. Future Governor Schwarzenegger conducts a little marijuana research of his own as depicted in the documentary Pumping Iron.

The governor's statement, in view of polls showing majority support for pot legalization in California, doesn't represent much political risk. In fact, it's yet another example of politicians following rather than leading in the debate over prohibition.

Arnie got in hot water in 2007 when he pronounced marijuana "a leaf, not a drug" during a GQ magazine interview. His spokespeople later claimed the governor was "joking."

Past history has shown that on this subject, historically perceived as fraught with political peril, public opinion usually precedes political will by months or even years.

First National Majority For Legalization

But the groundswell of support goes beyond California, as was shown by the Zogby poll that was released just one day after Schwarzenegger's statement to the press.

While other recent polls, including ones taken by Gallup and ABC/Washington Post, show marijuana legalization support in the mid-40s nationally, the new Zogby numbers represent a significant milestone -- for the first time ever, a national majority voicing support for the concept of legalized pot.

The survey polled a sample of 3,937 voters nationwide, weighted to match the 2008 presidential outcome -- 54 percent Obama supporters and 46 percent McCain voters. Voters were asked: "Scarce law enforcement and prison resources, a desire to neutralize drug cartels and the need for new sources of revenue have resurrected the topic of legalizing marijuana. Proponents say it makes sense to tax and regulate the drug while opponents say that legalization would lead marijuana users to use other illegal drugs. Would you favor or oppose the government's effort to legalize marijuana?"

According to executive director Rob Kampia of the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C., "the public is way ahead of the politicians on this." Kampia called marijuana prohibition a "disastrously failed policy" and called public support for legalization "strong and growing."
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