William F. Buckley
As often as not, democracy sucks. But on the question of marijuana laws, the good sense of the people is doing yeoman work. Time magazine explores the marijuana question in a cover story, which ends by saying that in America, "politics has leaped well ahead of the science, meaning voters will decide long before physicians whether medical marijuana is an oxymoron."

That -- does marijuana help some people who are sick? -- of course is a narrow part of the question. Forty-seven percent of the public have tried marijuana at least once (that figure was 31 percent 20 years ago), 80 percent think adults should be able to use marijuana legally for medical purposes, and 72 percent believe that people arrested for possessing small amounts of marijuana should be fined, not jailed.

Reflect on the interchange in the last two figures, and on another figure not given. If 80 percent of Americans believe that THC should be legal for sick people, and almost as many (72 percent) think it should be penalized for use by non-sick people only by fine, not prison, or electrocution, how many probably believe, or are about to believe, in legalization? If the public takes so solid a move in the easygoing direction away from prison sentences, is reform far away?

The major battleground next week is in Nevada, where people will vote on Question 9. If the vote is affirmative, in 2004 a constitutional ratifying amendment will be on the ballot that would legalize pot, which is to say, permit 3-ounce packets of it to be sold with impunity. How much is 3 ounces? On that point, as on so many others raised by Question 9, there is disagreement. The pro-pot people claim that the allowance is enough to make up only 80 joints. The anti's insist it's enough to make 250 joints. That quarrel is in the nature of a liquor law that would permit 6 pints of booze per purchase or 18.

Although Nevada's Question 9 is most prominent, eight states already allow the use of medical marijuana, 22 are oriented in that direction, and several have ballot initiatives that are relatively permissive. The movement presses against our northern frontier. Canada has relaxed its law on medical marijuana, as also Great Britain -- and of course Amsterdam, which permits everything, including killing babies and old people.

William F. Buckley

William F. Buckley, Jr. is editor-at-large of National Review, the prolific author of Miles Gone By: A Literary Autobiography.

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