Americans Have Gone Really Soft on Drugs

69 percent say marijuana is better for you than alcohol.

National Journal

Marijuana is having a moment. The District of Columbia just approved a measure to decriminalize possession of the drug. Two states allow it outright. Many more approve of it for medical use. In this fiscal year, Colorado has reaped nearly $13 million in marijuana-related taxes and fees. And, as a new report from the Pew Research Center finds, 69 percent of respondents say it's better for your health than alcohol.

Likewise, the push to reform mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes has also gained momentum. Attorney General Eric Holder has made it one of his top priorities. And when the U.S. sentencing commission votes on new guidelines in April, there's a good chance it will call for reforms.

These two national trends — toward marijuana acceptance, away from drug-related incarcerations — are shown with absolute clarity in the just-published report from Pew. "The public appears ready for a truce in the long-running war on drugs," the report says.

Sixty-seven percent of Americans now say the government should focus more on treatment than incarceration for hard-drug crimes. But more than those top numbers, Pew finds a huge shift, over time, in America's views toward drugs.

We've gone soft on them. And both Republicans and Democrats are trending in the same direction.

"By nearly two-to-one (63% to 32%), more say it is a good thing than a bad thing that some states have moved away from mandatory sentences for non-violent drug offenders," the report reads. "In 2001, Americans were evenly divided over the move by some states to abandon mandatory drug terms."

Here are some of the report's more striking findings.

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CORRECTION: This article originally misstated the percent of people who would be bothered by public marijuana smoking. Sixty three percent of respondents on the poll said they would be bothered by public pot smoking. Thirty four percent said they wouldn't be bothered.