A deeper analysis of the 2011 Gallup survey provided even more encouragement for advocates of legalization. Opposition was strongest among respondents over the age of sixty-five. Conversely, support for legalization was strongest among respondents eighteen to twenty-nine (a whopping 62 percent.) Given the realities of mortality tables, the portion of the population supportive of the drug war is certain to diminish, even if that trend might be offset somewhat by the tendency of people to become more socially conservative as they age. It was also significant that solid majorities of both Democrats and Independents (57 percent in both cases) embraced legalization of marijuana. In other words, support for the war on drugs as it applies to marijuana is now heavily concentrated among elderly Republicans.
All of this suggests that Americans are at least wavering in their support for drug prohibition. True, far lower percentages of people in the United States as well as other countries are more reluctant to endorse the legalization of harder drugs. But the trend in opinion regarding marijuana should put the option of legalization on the table. And it certainly should lead to a badly needed national and international discussion about the wisdom of Washington’s current drug policy.
Unfortunately, at precisely the time that creative leadership by the president of the United States could prove extraordinarily important and helpful, President Obama has shown no willingness to provide such leadership on the drug issue. History is likely to judge his timidity or poor judgment harshly—as it should.
Ted Galen Carpenter, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, is the author of eight books on international affairs, including Bad Neighbor Policy: Washington’s Futile War on Drugs in Latin America (Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.) His latest book, The Fire Next Door: Mexico’s Drug Violence and the Danger to America, will be published in October 2012 by the Cato Institute.