The move is seen as yet another political sop to congressional Republicans, who have cited a recent upswing in teen marijuana use as evidence that the administration is too soft on drugs. In Congress, arch-prohibitionist Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) formed a Republican task force on drugs (from which Californians were conspicuously lacking), while the House Judiciary committee held hearings on marijuana, amidst charges that the Clinton administration has ignored the reefer menace.
In fact, the Clinton administration has presided over the toughest anti-pot laws in years. According to FBI statistics, there were a record 481,098 marijuana arrests in 1994, even though there were fewer users than a decade ago. An estimated one-sixth of all federal prisoners are marijuana offenders. In California, arrests climbed to 45,962 in 1994 up 30% from the last year of the Bush administration. Despite this fact, cannabis use has rebounded, strongly suggesting that punitive policies are failing.
Meanwhile, the evident failure of the war on pot has attracted growing press skepticism of the current marijuana laws. In a three-part, front-page series on marijuana, entitled, "Up in Smoke: Law enforcement can't cope with pots' growing appeal," (November 12, 1994), The San Jose Mercury-News reported that, according to officials in Northern California's pot-growing Emerald Triangle, "the battle to eradicate marijuana continues, but the war is lost." "I say go ahead and legalize it," stated former Humboldt county Sheriff Dave Renner, a former architect of the state's CAMP eradication program.
In a dramatic departure from right-wing "cultural conservative" prohibitionists, conservative spokesman William F. Buckley, Jr.'s National Review declared its support for drug legalization. "The War on Drugs is Lost," editorialized the magazine (February 12, 1996), "Kill It. Go for Legalization. Free Up Police, Courts. Reduce Crime.
In a ringing editorial entitled "Just Say Yes," (February 16, 1996) the Oakland Tribune expressed similar sentiments: "Legalize marijuana for everyone over 21. That alone would take 450,000 arrests out of the system."
Ñ California NORML Reports, March, 1996