Last week I attended a press conference in Annapolis, Maryland, organized by a collection of diverse and bipartisan lawmakers to announce plans for a bill that would make Maryland the 15th state in the nation to have a medical marijuana law.
While talking beforehand and afterward with members of the local Maryland media, I kept getting asked the same question, over and over again: Who is your opposition? Being objective, even-handed journalists, they wanted to get “both sides” of the issue into their stories. They had heard from medical marijuana patients and advocates, they had heard from the politicians proposing the legislation – but what about the other side? Who is opposed to medical marijuana?
Naturally, most of the reporters probably thought I was being dishonest, that I just didn’t want to put them in touch with some “expert” who would argue that sick and dying patients should be treated like criminals for trying to relieve their symptoms with marijuana. But the very reason they were asking me about the opposition in Maryland was because those same reporters had already tried to find “the other side” and simply couldn’t. The press conference ended up being covered by every major newspaper and TV station in the state. And not a single story included a quote from somebody opposed to medical marijuana. How could that be?
Is it because Maryland is a zany progressive blue state? Not that either. Maryland has plenty of Republicans and conservatives, including several of the elected state lawmakers sponsoring the proposed medical marijuana legislation, among them state Sen. David Brinkley, the bill’s main sponsor in the Maryland Senate and himself a cancer survivor.
Instead, what I believe – and what I tried to tell those reporters – is behind the growing lack of “the other side” in the medical marijuana debate, is the simple fact that everyday Americans no longer support the callous and reckless logic that says sick people should be locked up for trying to get better and billions of taxpayer dollars should be wasted fighting an un-winnable war against our country’s largest cash crop.
Marijuana reform issues are now some of the most popular in the nation, with medical marijuana at the forefront, and we have the numbers to back it up.
According to an ABC News/Washington Post poll released last month, more than eight in 10 Americans – 81 percent nationwide – support making marijuana legal for medicinal use, as it already is in 14 states and could be in 17 if not for three cowardly vetoes by the governors of New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Minnesota.
Eighty-one percent. If that number isn’t impressive, I don’t know what is. That means more Americans support medical marijuana than currently approve of President Obama’s job performance (48 percent), support gay marriage (40 percent), or think the president and Congress should continue efforts to pass the current health care bill (39 percent). In an era when Americans agree on little and seem opposed to nearly everything, there are virtually no other public policy issues Americans support as widely as medical marijuana. More Americans support medical marijuana than even plan to watch this year’s Super Bowl (about 100 million).
What’s really promising is how quickly that support has accelerated in recent years, jumping 12 percent since 1997. But that increase pales in comparison to another figure described in the poll: the skyrocketing support nationwide for ending marijuana prohibition entirely. The same ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 46 percent of Americans support making legal the possession of small amounts of marijuana. That’s more than double what the same figure was in 1997 (22 percent). If trends continue, in a few more years, the majority of Americans will want to end marijuana prohibition. How long then would we have to wait for prohibitionist voices to disappear completely from the public debate, just as nobody still argues in favor of alcohol prohibition?
This is not a fringe issue. Americans want to see marijuana laws change. Sooner or later, the politicians we vote in (and out) of office will have to listen. Many – such as those sponsoring medical marijuana in Maryland – are already onboard.
And nobody is taking to the airwaves to say they’re wrong.
Mike Meno is assistant director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project.
 From Gallup.com