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The "Legalize It" Movement Turns 40

Public opinion has changed since the pot legalization movement first sparked up in 1972.

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The movement in its younger, van-centric
days. Photo via

By McCarton Ackerman

03/23/12

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Reese Witherspoon and William Shatner weren't the only ones who blew out birthday candles last night: March 22, 2012, also marked the 40-year anniversary of the campaign to legalize pot in the US. On the same day in 1972, the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse recommended that Congress no longer make the use and possession of pot a criminal offense, claiming that criminal law was too harsh a method to apply in discouraging citizens from toking up. The commission also said that marijuana did not meet the criteria of a Schedule I controlled substance, which is defined as a prohibitive substance without any therapeutic value. "The actual and potential harm of use of the drug is not great enough to justify intrusion by the criminal law into private behavior, a step which our society takes only with the greatest reluctance," noted the commission.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, then-President Richard Nixon dismissed the report and continued his "all-out war" on drugs, with 21.5 million Americans having been arrested under marijuana laws since that time. But 40 years later, public opinion on legalization has shifted radically: More than half of Americans say that pot should be legalized and regulated for adults, while 80% say it should be available as a therapy when recommended by a physician.

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