Adds Frank: "I guess it's better to be on the table than under the table."
However many encouraging signs there have been in recent months, there are still more people who will fight hard to maintain the federal pot ban. Marijuana abuse does carry some health risks, after all. Moreover, there are plenty of law-and-order types out there who simply believe, as South Park's Mr. Mackey says, that "drugs are bad, mmkay?"
"Marijuana prohibition is a powerful drug in and of itself, and one to which we are heavily addicted," says Baum. "Marijuana [illegality] has tremendous political power, and I think we're going to give that up very reluctantly.
"Cops love [pot prohibition]," he continues. "Pot smokers and pot dealers don't shoot back; they're easy to bust and you get all this money from the Feds for drug prohibition. Schools like it because it gives a concrete bit of evidence you can use to get rid of and isolate and punish a troublesome or rebellious kid. When you start peeling it back, marijuana prohibition serves a great many powerful interests."
Indeed, the "drug-war industrial complex is not to be sneezed at," says Mirken, who points out that the pushback has already started. "Marijuana potency surpasses 10 percent," the headline of an alarmist cnn.com article warned last week.
In January, before he withdrew his name from consideration for surgeon general, CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta penned an op-ed for Time titled "Why I Would Vote No On Pot." In it, the neurosurgeon argued that the damage marijuana might do to one's lungs or short-term memory essentially outweighed the fact that "permissive legalization, accompanied by stringent regulations and penalties, can cut down on illegal-drug trafficking and make communities safer."
Even liberal blogger Matthew Yglesias (yglesias.thinkprogress.org), while receptive to decriminalization, confessed to fearing "the creation of a legal marijuana industry with lobbyists and advertising aimed at creating as many problem pot smokers as possible."
Light up at the end of the tunnel
Certainly, some of these fears may have merit. Just as certainly, the pro-pot side has plenty of valid points of its own. So let's hash it out.
"One of the most hideous things about the drug war is not only the imprisonment, and not only the civil-liberties [violations]," says Baum. "It's the way it shut down debate. It created forbidden speech in the US. And I am delighted to see that changing."
"It feels like a sea change," says Nadelmann of the past six months. "The credibility and stature of the people speaking out. The reception we're getting from legislators. The interest of the media."
At the same time, however, he's well-aware that "it's a little like surfing: we're riding a wave right now like we've never seen before. That wave's gonna crash, things will quiet down, we'll be way ahead, and then we'll have to ride the next wave."
As the tides roll, the Bay State keeps drafting new legislation. There's currently a bill in the house, the Massachusetts Medical Marijuana Act, that Mike Crawford — a board member of MassCann/NORML who says he's noticed more and more bipartisan support on Beacon Hill — thinks has a "very good chance" of passing.