Yesterday, Gallup announced that for the first time in history, fully half of Americans polled believe that marijuana should be made legal in the United States.
Four decades ago, only one in seven Americans supported legalization.
Not surprisingly, strong support for legalization exists among liberals (69 percent), adults under 30 (62 percent), Democrats (57 percent) and independents (57 percent). Interestingly, however, more than a third of Republicans and conservatives support legalization as well.
Since 2009, Massachusetts marijuana laws have been among the most lenient in
Here in the Commonwealth, possession of less than one ounce of marijuana is only a "civil offense," which is like a traffic ticket, subjecting the offender to a $100 fine and forfeiture of the drug. If the offender is under 18 years of age, he or she is required to take a drug awareness program.
Changes in marijuana laws have impacted the ability of law enforcement officers to search vehicles whose occupants are suspected to be in possession of the drug.
Back in the day, if a police officer smelled marijuana smoke coming from a detained vehicle, the officer usually would be considered to have probable cause to order the driver from the vehicle in order to conduct a search of its contents. If marijuana, other drugs or even illegal weapons, for example, were then discovered, the vehicle occupants could face other criminal charges.
To counteract this, Norton recently voted to in the annual Fall Town Meeting.
In a case decided last April, however, the state's highest court made clear that police officers no longer could justify a search of a vehicle merely because they smelled marijuana.
In Cruz v. Commonwealth, police officers smelled smoke coming from a parked car whose occupants appeared to be nervous once they were spotted. After speaking with the occupants, the police ordered the occupants from the vehicle and after a search, discovered crack cocaine. A trial judge later determined, however, that the search of the vehicle was improper because the police had no evidence of illegal activity and thus no probable cause to conduct the search. Even though marijuana use and possession is not, technically, legal in this state, its use is not a "criminal offense" and, therefore, police in such circumstances have no basis (absent other evidence) to believe that criminal activity is taking place. Absent evidence of criminal activity, a warrantless search of the vehicle was improper.
On appeal, the Supreme Judicial Court upheld the trial court's decision.
Opponents of legalization remain vocal. They contend, among other things, that marijuana use often leads to the abuse of harder, more dangerous drugs, and that marijuana use itself carries significant risks to persons and society. By making marijuana legal, they also contend, usage very likely will increase.
Recently, PBS debuted the new Ken Burns documentary, "Prohibition." The film tells the story of the dozen or so years when Americans attempted to outlaw the sale of alcohol. The ban was, of course, a colossal failure and eventually, alcohol laws were greatly liberalized in almost every corner of the nation.
Will the prohibition against the sale of marijuana ever be lifted? It's hard to say. But "If the trend continues," Gallup says, "pressure may build to bring the nation's laws into compliance with the people's wishes."