The history of marijuana in the last century has been a slow process toward social acceptance.
In the 1936 movie "Reefer Madness," marijuana smokers were portrayed morally-depraved pot fiends .
In the 1950s, marijuana was considered to be not just a dangerous drug, but a stepping stone to the use of heroin or even more dangerous controlled substances.
In 1979, 27 percent of Americans favored legalization, according to a CBS News/New York Times poll at the time.
Gradually, but consistently, social acceptance of marijuana continued to climb. By the 1980s, over 80 percent of high school students said they had easy access to marijuana. By 1988, no less an authority than the Drug Enforcement Administration's administrative law judge, Francis Young, concluded that "marijuana may well be the safest psychoactive substance commonly used in human history."
A 2009 CBS News poll found that more Americans now support legalization. Forty-one percent said they think marijuana should be made legal and 52 percent are opposed. That's even more than in a CBS News poll in March when 31 percent said they were in favor of legalization in all cases with another seven percent saying they would favor legalization if marijuana were taxed and the money went to projects.
Today the potent smell of marijuana legalization is in the air. States including California and New Mexico -- and, as of mid-June, Rhode Island -- already permit marijuana's use for medicinal purposes. The success of those initiatives, coupled with an economic downturn, a president who did inhale and governors who are willing to discuss complete legalization, make it seem possible that legal bans on recreational use of marijuana will, in the not-so-distant future, go up in smoke.
As for the legalization of marijuana for recreational use: So far, most politicians seem wary of the topic, and are being more conservative in their public statements than polls would suggest.
When Mr. Obama, who has admitted to smoking pot, held a virtual town hall meeting in March, tens of thousands of Americans voted via the Internet on questions that he should be asked. Marijuana legalization was by far the most popular topic, with questions such as this one: "What are your plans for the failing, 'War on Drugs', that's sucking money from tax payers and putting non-violent people in prison longer than the violent criminals?"
The president's answer: "No, I don't think this is a good strategy to grow our economy."
Another impetus that has been prompting calls for legalization is the lingering disparities in the legal treatment of affluent users who have tried marijuana -- and poorer Americans arrested on drug possession charges who are unable to navigate the legal system.