Poll: Feds should back off when states legalize pot

Americans are split over whether marijuana should be decriminalized – 50 percent say no, 48 percent say yes – but they overwhelmingly agree on this: When states vote to legalize pot, the feds should look the other way.

The issue has taken on a new urgency after Colorado and Washington state voted last month to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes. That puts the two states in conflict with federal drug laws.

The Justice Department said last week that its enforcement of drug laws “remains unchanged.”

A USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds no new groundswell nationwide to decriminalize marijuana. While support for legalization has risen steadily since the 1970s, the current levels of support are about the same as they were in 2010 and 2011.

However, when asked if the federal government should take steps to enforce federal laws in states that vote to legalize pot, those surveyed say by almost 2-1, 64 percent to 34 percent, that they shouldn’t.

“There has been nothing that I have seen or heard from the Department of Justice that says, ‘Look, we’re not going to continue to enforce federal law,’” Gil Kerlikowske, President Obama’s top drug adviser, said in a recent interview on public radio’s Marketplace. “And we’re going to continue to take a hard look at those people who are involved in making money on essentially a violation of federal law.”

The poll of 1,015 Americans, taken Nov. 26-29, has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

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