Steve Chapman

If we had gotten results like this after reducing enforcement, the new policy would be blamed. But politicians who support the drug war never consider that their remedies may be aggravating the disease. They follow the customary formula for government programs: If it works, spend more on it, and if it fails, spend more on it.

During the 2008 campaign, Barack Obama criticized the Bush administration for overriding states on medical marijuana. "What I'm not going to be doing," he vowed, "is using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws on this issue."

For a while it seemed like he meant it. Early on, the Justice Department said it would not waste resources going after sick people who were using cannabis as allowed by states. But recently, federal prosecutors in California have been mobilizing to shut down the state-approved dispensaries that supply those patients.

It's like George W. Bush never left. William Panzer, co-author of the medical marijuana initiative approved by California voters in 1996, told The Los Angeles Times, "The Obama administration has been incredibly disappointing on this issue."

The effort to combat marijuana has served to punish Americans for using a substance that is far less harmful than legal ones. It has enriched organized crime, while fueling endless slaughter by drug cartels in Mexico. It has prevented clinical research on the therapeutic use of cannabis. Its results run the gamut from pathetic ineffectuality to outright harm.

Those facts account for the growing support for legalization, despite ceaseless government propaganda against marijuana. It may seem impossible that cannabis will ever be permitted, regulated and taxed like beer or cigarettes. But when public opinion moves, public policy is bound to follow.

In 1930, the author of the constitutional amendment establishing Prohibition said, "There is as much chance of repealing the Eighteenth Amendment as there is for a hummingbird to fly to the planet Mars with the Washington Monument tied to its tail." Three years later, it was gone.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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