In the News: Marijuana in the U.S.–Recent Developments in Policy and Opinion

January 24, 2014

Women smoking marijuana joint.“I don’t think marijuana is more dangerous than alcohol,” stated Barack Obama, in a recent article by David Remnick, published in The New Yorker. “I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life.”

These comments were made in light of recent changes in legislation, as well as public opinion, regarding the legal status of marijuana in the U.S. One year ago, residents of Colorado and Washington State made history by voting in favour of legalizing marijuana for recreational use and sale. Colorado’s law went into effect on January 1st, which will be followed by Washington later this year.

According to a poll conducted by Pew Research Center, public support for the legalization of marijuana has reached an all-time high. The Center states: “For the first time in more than four decades of polling on the issue, a majority of Americans favour legalizing the use of marijuana.” The results were drawn from a sample of 1,501 adults; 52% were in support of legalizing the drug.

In the Remnick article, Obama pointed out that what really concerns him is the disproportionate number of marijuana-related arrests and incarcerations among minorities and low-income populations. “We should not be locking up kids or individual users for long stretches of jail time when some of the folks who are writing those laws have probably done the same thing,” he said.

Despite these remarks, Obama is still exercising caution, stating that legalizing marijuana is not likely to be the sort of “panacea” for resolving social ills that many people make it out to be. The developments in Colorado and Washington, he says, will be an “experiment.”

With such dramatic changes happening in the U.S., it is worth taking a comparative look back at the development of marijuana legislation in Canada. Like the U.S., recent public opinion polls have shown that the majority of Canadians think recreational marijuana should be legal. In “The Saga Continues: Canadian Legislative Attempts to Reform Cannabis Law in the Twenty-First Century,” which appeared in Volume 51 of the Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Elaine Hyshka examines this hotly debated issue, reflecting on the various social actors and debates that have shaped the “decriminalization saga” throughout the years.

Do you think marijuana should be decriminalized? Tweet us your thoughts @utpjournals.

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