War on drugs survey: 4 percent say we're winning, 82 percent disagree

A new poll suggests that the war on drugs is even more unpopular than Congress.

A survey from last month showed Congress with a 12 percent approval rating. However, a new poll finds that only 4 percent of respondents feel we're winning the war on drugs, while 82 percent disagree -- and a national marijuana-reform advocate thinks Colorado's example is likely to inspire even more people to give peace a chance.

The Rasmussen Reports study is drawn from a national poll of 1,000 adults on August 12 and 13, with a plus-or-minus 3 percent error margin and what's characterized as a 95 percent level of confidence.

Here are the questions participants were asked:
1. How closely have you followed recent news reports about drug laws? 2. The federal government has strict mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug-related offenses. Do you agree or disagree with the use of mandatory minimum sentences for certain crimes? 3. Some argue that the use of mandatory sentences has filled prisons with thousands of non-violent offenders, mostly convicted of drug crimes. Do you favor or oppose a plan that would reduce the number of these non-violent offenders sent to prison? 4. Are there too many Americans in prison today? 5. Should marijuana be legalized? 6. Who should decide whether marijuana is legal in a state -- the state government or the federal government? 7. Have you smoked marijuana within the past year? 8. Is the United States winning the war on drugs? 9. Does the United States spend too much or not enough on the war on drugs? Or is the amount spent about right?
After calculating the data, the folks at Rasmussen Reports reveal that only 4 percent believe the war on drugs is being successfully conducted, as opposed to 7 percent asked a similar question this past November, with 82 percent replying negatively and 13 percent undecided.

Drilling down reveals more dire digits. More than a third of participants (36 percent) think the U.S. is spending too much to fight the drug war. Combine that with those who were undecided (20 percent) and the total is higher than people who felt either that the government isn't spending enough to fight the war (25 percent) and individuals who believe the current amount is about right (19 percent).

Other interesting factoids: 55 percent of those polled think there are too many people in prison today -- a point made by Attorney General Eric Holder when he recently argued in favor of sentencing reform, particularly when it comes to nonviolent drug offenses. No wonder 52 percent of those quizzed by Rasmussen like Holder's plan.

Marijuana Majority founder Tom Angell was cheered by the survey's findings.

"Whereas speaking out against the drug war was once seen as a risky, third-rail position, this and other recent polling results show that supporting the status quo is the most direct way for politicians to marginalize themselves on this issue today," he maintains via e-mail. "You even see opponents like Kevin Sabet and those in the White House Office of National Drug Control policy adopting anti-drug-war rhetoric to sneakily justify their pro-status-quo policy positions."

Still, Angell knows such results won't magically end the drug war, which has gained tremendous momentum over a span of decades: "The challenge for drug reformers is to show that what we really need are changes in policies, not just changes in rhetoric."

In that respect, he thinks Colorado will prove to be a key.

"Colorado's implementation of Amendment 64 will provide us with an example to point to of how regulation is much better for everyone in society -- marijuana users and nonusers alike -- than prohibition is," he allows. "Our opponents like to predict that legalization will cause the sky to fall, but when Colorado shows that it instead causes budget deficits and crime rates to fall, other states will follow suit."

More from our Marijuana archive circa 2011: "War on drugs' 40th anniversary: Protesters at Skyline Park say policy has failed (PHOTOS)."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts