Legalized Marijuana? We May Already Be on the Way

"The United States has the highest prison population of any country in the world, and I think that largely has been the result of mandatory prison sentences as a result of junk laws, and I think that these changes that we're seeing now probably will ripple back," he continued. "And I think that's a place that people really have to consider whether they want to incarcerate this large number of people and the cost of that in our society."

Al Hunt, Washington, D.C., bureau chief for Bloomberg News, agreed that resources could be better spent elsewhere.

"Well, now that I no longer have a teenager, I have a little bit different view, a bit more permissive," he said. "I don't think it's a great utilization of scarce federal resources to be prosecuting pot.

"I am not sure if it's going to lead to what George suggests [eventual legalization]. I'm not sure that would be a bad idea," he said. "But I was at the University of Mississippi a couple of years ago and it's interesting, they grow marijuana on the campus. So, times are a-changing."

Taxing Pot to Pay for Health Care?

However, there was one circumstance under which Podesta thought "full legalization" could occur.

"I think we won't see a full legalization of marijuana until somebody figures out that if you tax it, maybe you can pay for health care," he said.

Will also said taxing marijuana could be a way to go after Mexican drug cartels.

"Eighty percent of the revenue of the Mexican cartels is marijuana. If you really want to go after the Mexican cartels, and I'm not saying that is the only criterion for public policy, you'd legalize marijuana," he said.

Public Sympathy on the Side of Medicinal Marijuana

Legalizing marijuana remains controversial, but the public is less divided on medicinal marijuana. A March 2001 Pew Research Center poll showed that nearly 75 percent of those polled were in favor of allowing doctors to prescribe marijuana for medical purposes to treat their patients.

"I think all of us have either gone through cancer or family members, and it's a terribly painful disease. I think you have a lot of sympathy. There's a lot of public sympathy for medical marijuana use," Ingraham said.

Cynthia Tucker, political columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper, called for a broader view of the administration's policy change.

"I really think instead of just acting in a small way to say, marijuana isn't such a bad thing, let's relook at all of our drug laws, the way we fight the so-called war on drugs, because it isn't working," she said.

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