In the chronicle of America's war against its marijuana users, conservative columnist George Will may have just earned credit for his own Walter Cronkite moment.
Appearing on ABC's This Week With George Stephanopoulos on Sunday, the Pulitzer-winning journalist and longtime icon of America's political right declared that with President Barack Obama's new policy which respects the states right to allow medical marijuana, the United States is "probably in the process now of legalizing marijuana."
He added that if there were to be a serious effort to fight the increasingly violent, powerful Mexican drug cartels, "you'd legalize marijuana," the sale of which provides the gangs the vast majority of their funding.
Will's comments come not even a week after a Gallup poll found record-breaking support across the United States for the legalization of marijuana, with nearly half of U.S. citizens in favor and a clear majority of support emerging among liberals, Democrats and moderates.
Will's proclamation, as a well-respected conservative thinker, is especially significant given that Gallup found the only two political groups in the U.S. that are still very strongly opposed to legalization are conservatives and Republicans.
Gallup tracking data also showed that from 2006-2009, support for legalization grew more than at almost any time since the drug was banned, trending upward from 36 percent to 44 percent in just three years.
However, Will's estimation of America's shifting marijuana policies still posed a scenario that many conservatives would likely look upon with uneasiness.
"Medical use can be marijuana to cure anxiety, to cure insomnia, all the rest," he said. "And you will have what you now have in California, where marijuana is essentially legalized. We have legalized gambling in this country over two generations; it used to be considered a sin and a crime. We, with no national debate and no decision moment -- we just did it -- we legalized prostitution, as anyone who opens a telephone book and looks under 'escort' can tell you. And we may be doing ... We're probably in the process now of legalizing marijuana."
John Podesta, who joined Will along with Laura Ingraham, Al Hunt and Cynthia Tucker on the program, suggested that the United States will not see a full legalization of marijuana until someone figures out that taxing the nation's top cash crop could pay for public health care.
"That may be what drives it!" said host George Stephanopoulos.
Will retorted: "80 percent of the Mexican cartels' revenue is from marijuana. If you really want to go after the Mexican cartels -- and I'm not saying that's the only criteria for public policy -- you'd legalize marijuana."
Were that to happen, California would likely be the first state to do so. Right now, several ballot initiatives to legalize marijuana for recreational use by adults appear likely to clear the hurdles required to be put up for state-wide vote. Furthermore, a Field Research Corporation poll of Californians, taken in May, found 56 percent support legalizing the drug and levying a "sin tax" on purchases.
California State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, of San Francisco, has repeatedly said that under legalization the state would quickly draw over $1.5 billion in marijuana taxes alone. He added that advocacy agencies have credibly placed the annual value of marijuana sales in California at or above $14 billion.
One airport within Ammiano's assembly district -- San Francisco International -- even has a little-spoken policy of allowing properly-licensed passengers to travel with up to a half-pound of medical marijuana. Oakland International airport shares a similar policy.
Last week over 3,000 federal, state and local law enforcement agents participated in a major operation against the La Familia cartel, which dominates the trade of methamphetamine in the United States. Agents arrested 303 individuals allegedly linked to the cartel, with raids taking place in 38 U.S. cities. Seventy-seven of the arrests took place in the Dallas-Fort Worth area of North Texas.
Drug war violence has claimed the lives of over 15,000 Mexicans in the last three years, The Washington Post reported on Friday. Those killed include women, children, police, soldiers, politicians and cartel members, among many others. One Mexican city, Ciudad Juarez, has seen over 2,000 drug war-related killings in 2009 alone, making it "the murder capital of the world."
By comparison, some 2,691 civilian and Iraqi security force members have suffered violent deaths so far in 2009, according to the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count. Another 131 coalition troops have been killed so far this year. Furthermore, the Human Rights Unit of the United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan noted in August that the first six months of 2009 have seen 1,013 civilian deaths, whereas the figure was lower during that same period of time during the last two years of the Bush administration.
The comments by George Will noted above may be heard in the final four minutes of this video, broadcast Sunday, Oct. 25, 2009.