February 15, 2014 at 1:00 am

COLUMN

Marijuana sweeps the country, even South

It seems marijuana — at least for medical use — is sweeping the nation. More than 20 states and the District of Columbia have either legalized medical marijuana or decriminalized its possession, and in two states, Colorado and Washington, voters recently legalized its recreational use. The Denver Post even appointed a Marijuana editor.

The Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, D.C., found in September that, “For the first time in more than four decades of polling … a majority (52 percent) of Americans favor legalizing the use of marijuana.” In June, they found that nearly half of Americans had smoked marijuana, up from 40 percent three years ago — and 12 percent had done so recently.

Half of baby boomers now favor legalization. And 72 percent of Americans say it isn’t worth the federal government’s time and money to enforce federal laws against marijuana. Agreement on this last point breaches even the partisan divide. Rather, the division is between conservatives in both parties on one side, and moderates and liberals on the other.

But what about the Bible Belt — the Deep South? In 2010, CNBC found that “in most states legalization is not even on the horizon,” while some were “vehemently opposed.” Florida and Louisiana were the two most “cannabis nongratis” states. Florida has the toughest anti-marijuana laws. CNBC found its marijuana laws were only “getting tougher.”

Except that today, the reverse is true. Last month, the Florida Supreme Court approved the language for a constitutional amendment to legalize medical marijuana three days before citizens gathered enough signatures to place it on the November ballot. And NORML, a group working to reform marijuana laws, reports an American Civil Liberties Union poll found that 53 percent of Louisianans favor legalizing recreational marijuana. Support for legalizing marijuana “is blooming in the South,” it said.

CNN’s chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, made a public apology for an article he wrote for Time magazine in 2009, opposing legalizing pot. “I didn’t look hard enough,” he said, “until now.”

Dr. Gupta now finds compelling medical evidence that marijuana does have medical uses. And in some cases, marijuana is the only recourse.

In 1982, Georgia enacted the Medical Marijuana Necessities Act, (now called the Controlled Substances Therapeutic Research Program). It cited restrictive federal laws that impeded clinical trials for medical marijuana and “insufficient funding,” to properly explore medical marijuana. Now, like Dr. Gupta says, the evidence is in.

Donna Brazile is a senior Democratic strategist.