A transpartisan coalition of prosecutors, judges, cops, students, bloggers and political operatives on both sides of the aisle launched a campaign Tuesday to bring an end to marijuana prohibition, focusing on ballot initiatives in 2010 and 2012. The campaign, "Just Say Now," gets its name from Nancy Reagan's iconic anti-drug slogan from the 1980s that has become synonymous with the government's black-and-white approach to drug policy.
"The stars are aligning in a very interesting way with Tea Party activists, who are generally libertarian," said Aaron Houston, head of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, on a conference call Tuesday afternoon announcing the formation of the coalition. "On the right and left it's a very popular issue."
The campaign will be backing marijuana initiatives in 2010 in Arizona, Oregon, California, Colorado and South Dakota. The group will back initiatives in Nevada and elsewhere in 2012.
Support for marijuana legalization has steadily increased over the past decade. As Mexico has descended into chaos fueled by the drug trade - a business overwhelmingly dominated by marijuana trafficking, despite the common perception that cocaine and heroin drive the war - public opinion has turned further sour against the drug war. With deficit concerns in the headlines and a stagnant economy refusing to create jobs, one time opponents of legalization are eyeing marijuana's tax revenue and job-creation prospects - conditions that helped repeal alcohol prohibition during the Great Depression.
Marijuana has been part of the national consciousness since the mid-1960s, the first drug other than alcohol to be so thoroughly a part of American culture. Cocaine and heroin rose at the end of the 19th Century but largely went deep underground until the 1970s; use of those harder drugs, meanwhile, has always been confined to smaller portions of the population. Marijuana, meanwhile, has been smoked by scores of millions of Americans, including the last three presidents. Medical marijuana is legal in 14 states and the District of Columbia.
The organization Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, made up of cops and prosecutors who've seen the dark side of the war on drugs, will give cover to politicians who come out in support of legalization. Its current president is Neill Franklin, a 33-year police veteran and ran anti-narcotics units with the Maryland State Police.
One LEAP leader, Norm Stamper, former chief of police in Seattle, Washington, the predecessor of current Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske. "Most police office candidates have used marijuana," said Stamper, noting the hypocrisy of the law. He said that law enforcement officials are becoming less frightened of speaking out publicly against the war on drugs.
Bruce Fein, a member of the coalition, was Ronald Reagan's associate deputy attorney general and is a prominent civil libertarian. "This is a fundamental issue of states' rights," said Fein.
A lead organizer of the campaign, Jane Hamsher, founder of Firedoglake.com, went on CNN Monday night to challenge existing notions about marijuana prohibition. WATCH:
Ryan Grim is the author of This Is Your Country On Drugs: The Secret History of Getting High in America