ETHAN NADELMANN, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, has been advocating for legalization of marijuana for 20 years and says he’s seen more progress in the last four months than in the previous two decades. “It’s starting to cascade,” he said. “Our model is the gay rights movement and their recent string of successes with gay marriage.”
Mr. Nadelmann is a smart guy; he has a law degree and a doctorate from Harvard. He so impressed George Soros that the billionaire investor became the biggest financial backer for Mr. Nadelmann’s advocacy. The Drug Policy Alliance has 45 staff members in seven offices nationwide working for legalization.
In the 25 years since Nancy Reagan advocated just saying no, Mr. Nadelmann has seen a progression through four public stages out of the five he believes are needed to achieve legalization.
Stage 1. Bill Clinton: I smoked but I did not inhale.
Stage 2. Al Gore: I smoked, it was wrong, I regret it, shame on me.
Stage 3. Michael Bloomberg (asked if he’d tried pot): “You bet I did and I enjoyed it.”
Stage 4. Barack Obama: “I inhaled frequently — that was the point!”
Stage 5. Public Figure to Come: Yes, I smoke the occasional joint.
“We need to drop the ‘d’ from ‘smoked,’ ” Mr. Nadelmann said, “and move from past to present.”
For many reasons, the advocates are feeling hopeful. The Obama administration has reversed a Bush policy of prosecuting medical marijuana use, which is now legal in 13 states; a recent Field poll in California showed for the first time that a majority of registered voters in that state favors legalizing and taxing pot; Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has opposed legalization, now says he’d like to see a study done.
National polls also show growing support — an ABC/Washington Post poll last month found that 46 percent of Americans favored legalizing small amounts of pot for personal use; when the poll last asked the question, in 1997, 22 percent supported legalization.
Every strategy for achieving legalization pins its hopes on the generation that first embraced pot en masse — baby boomers — gradually displacing older voters with no experience using the drug. The ABC poll found that 45 percent of boomers favored legalization, versus 30 percent of adults 65 and older.
Mr. Nadelmann, a boomer himself at 52, says the biggest difference since the last legalization push, in the late 1970s, is the drug savvy of parents now versus then. “In the ’70s, that older generation of parents didn’t know the difference between marijuana and heroin,” Mr. Nadelmann said. “This generation of boomer parents has a high familiarity with marijuana. An awful lot tried it, liked it; the vast number never went on to cocaine or heroin or even had a problem with marijuana.”That would be me. The 20-something me used marijuana in moderation, did not fall victim to reefer madness, did not go on to harder drugs, believed it to be a drug superior to alcohol in many respects, enjoyed it like the mayor, and inhaled like the president.