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Legalize pot movement gains steam
These developments and others are kindling unprecedented optimism among the many Americans who want to see marijuana legalized.
Doing so, they contend to an ever-more-receptive audience, could weaken the Mexican cartels now profiting from U.S. pot sales, save billions in law enforcement costs, and generate billions more in tax revenue from one of the nation's biggest cash crops.
Said a veteran of the movement, Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance: "This is the first time I feel like the wind is at my back and not in my face."
Foes of legalization argue that already-rampant pot use by adolescents would worsen if adults could smoke at will.
Even the most hopeful marijuana activists doubt nationwide decriminalization is imminent, but they see the debate evolving dramatically and anticipate fast-paced change on the state level.
"For the most part, what we've seen over the past 20 years has been incremental," said Norm Stamper, a former Seattle police chief now active with Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. "What we've seen in the past six months is an explosion of activity, fresh thinking, bold statements and penetrating questions."
* Numerous prominent political leaders, including California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and former Mexican presidents, have suggested it is time for open debate on legalization.
* Lawmakers in at least three states are considering joining the 13 states that have legalized pot for medical purposes. Massachusetts voters last fall decided to decriminalize possession of an ounce or less of pot; there are now a dozen states that have taken such steps.
* In Congress, Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, and Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., are among several lawmakers contending that marijuana decriminalization should be studied in re-examining what they deem to be failed U.S. drug policy. "Nothing should be off the table," Webb said.
* National polls show close to half of American adults are now open to legalizing pot — a constituency encompassing today's college students and the 60-something baby boomers who popularized the drug in their own youth. In California last month, a statewide Field Poll for the first time found 56 percent of voters supporting legalization.
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