The New York Times editorial board has editorialized in favor of eliminating federal criminal laws against marijuana:
It took 13 years for the United States to come to its senses and end Prohibition, 13 years in which people kept drinking, otherwise law-abiding citizens became criminals and crime syndicates arose and flourished. It has been more than 40 years since Congress passed the current ban on marijuana, inflicting great harm on society just to prohibit a substance far less dangerous than alcohol.
The federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana.
We reached that conclusion after a great deal of discussion among the members of The Times’s Editorial Board, inspired by a rapidly growing movement among the states to reform marijuana laws.
There are no perfect answers to people’s legitimate concerns about marijuana use. But neither are there such answers about tobacco or alcohol, and we believe that on every level — health effects, the impact on society and law-and-order issues — the balance falls squarely on the side of national legalization. That will put decisions on whether to allow recreational or medicinal production and use where it belongs — at the state level.
Part of me doesn’t want to highlight this, because the members of the editorial board a) aren’t that bright (certainly not as bright as they think they are) and b) have an outsized view of their own importance. That said, the editorial is reflective of the way public opinion seems to have shifted on this issue.
Let’s first dispose of a silly argument:
The social costs of the marijuana laws are vast. There were 658,000 arrests for marijuana possession in 2012, according to F.B.I. figures, compared with 256,000 for cocaine, heroin and their derivatives. Even worse, the result is racist, falling disproportionately on young black men, ruining their lives and creating new generations of career criminals.
First of all, I don’t understand how a “result” can be “racist.” Racism has to do with a state of mind. A result might disproportionately affect minorities, but that is not the same as “racism” — and I think the subtle attempt to equate the two is deliberate and deserves pushback. Moreover, I couldn’t find anywhere in the FBI figures anything about a racial breakdown of arrests for marijuana — just drugs in general. Feel free to point me to the table or tables to which the editorial writers are referring.
That silliness aside, the underlying issue is, I have always thought, more complicated than it is portrayed by either side.
Those who favor decriminalization often underemphasize the inevitable increase in usage that follows from decriminalization. Also, those who favor decriminalization fall into two camps: people who hold that view on principle, and people who just want to smoke a lot of pot. (Yes, there is overlap.) And I’ll admit: people in the latter group irritate me. There’s a reason that the stereotype of a habitual pot smoker is a lazy, shiftless couch potato munching on a bag of potato chips, with crumbs festooning his T-shirt. People who habitually smoke pot often lack a certain drive and ambition. In a way, though, it’s perfect for a society that increasingly expects to do nothing and have the government take care of everything.
Usage of drugs is not unrelated to violence, either — although that includes alcohol. My best guess is that most people who commit murder are under the influence of some combination of intoxicating drugs, often alcohol, marijuana, methamphetamine, and/or cocaine.
Putting that concern aside, be realistic: once you decriminalize pot, the legalizers will move on to advocating decriminalization for more drugs, and don’t assume otherwise.
Those who insist on laws remaining the same, however, have their own problems. They give short shrift to the idea that people own their own bodies. They support a system of laws in which participants in the criminal justice system spend far too much time on addicts — although, in California, this is less so when it comes to marijuana. At least in California, marijuana is largely decriminalized; nobody goes to jail or prison for possessing a small amount of marijuana, and penalties for dealing it are generally quite low. But a lot of court time is spent on people addicted to methamphetamine and cocaine, and I don’t get the sense that the system does much for these people; if you get cured, it’s because you yourself have decided to be cured.
I’d like to say that the NYT editorial raises some interesting questions, but really, it doesn’t. Because it’s the NYT. But the topic is an interesting one, and I do sense that public opinion is shifting.