Here's an article in Time that sums up how the decriminalization of drugs (ALL of them, not even just pot) has reduced rates of drug abuse and increased rates of addicts getting treatment.http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1893946,00.html
Instead of throwing people in jail for taking drugs, they offer drug counseling (which is cheaper for the government than incarcerating that person). And even that is optional but a lot of people are taking the opportunity to get help and get off drugs. It's awesome.
I heard about it on this YouTube video:Pharyngula
had a post with another video of hers, about Everybody Draw Muhammad Day; I liked it so I started watching her other videos including the one above.
Meanwhile, Prop 19 was rejected by the majority of voters here in California this year. Because we Americans have a major boner for punishing people. I liked the point made in the video that we should be more concerned with what actually works in the real world than with what satisfies our urge to see the sinners punished. That's such a problem. It's rooted in religion and capitalism and is being pushed by the right wing more strongly than ever.
This applies to a lot of social programs. Like the program in Nevada (can't find a link, sorry. I saw it on a news show) where they found that it was actually cheaper to pay rent on small, cheap apartments for homeless people than it was to allow them to stay homeless and keep having to use emergency medical services. Everybody wins: the homeless people have better health, greater stability and a better chance at getting a job, and the government saves money. But the public doesn't like that type of thing. First, I expect a lot of people would grumble about the expense and ignore the fact that it actually costs less. Some would be blatant enough assholes to say the ideal solution is to stop paying for their emergency medical care too, and just let them die on the street, which is a horrific denial of our responsibility as a society. Since that's not a realistic option, people end up choosing to keep things the way they are, with greater expense and greater suffering, because making things better wouldn't satisfy their vindictive need to feel like they're better than other people.
Another argument against programs like this is "why should they get free counseling/apartments/food stamps/etc.? I work hard, why doesn't the government give me free stuff? It's not fair." But it's completely fair: if the complaining person were to become homeless/addicted to drugs/poor/etc. then the help would be freely given to them too. The government isn't going to say "nope, you work too hard, these programs are only available for lazy people who contribute nothing to society." That's absurd. But it's how a lot of people think it really is.
It's so frustrating to see these solutions that really work but have them rejected here because people would rather have everyone, including themselves, be worse off in exchange for feeling morally superior.