The Gray Lady Gets High

In one sense, it may not come as a huge shock that the New York Times editorial board has decided to go public in support of ending the federal prohibition on marijuana.  After all, its liberal credentials are renown, and isn’t legalizing pot a liberal cause célèbre? But it’s hardly that simple.

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.

We considered whether it would be best for Washington to hold back while the states continued experimenting with legalizing medicinal uses of marijuana, reducing penalties, or even simply legalizing all use. Nearly three-quarters of the states have done one of these.

But that would leave their citizens vulnerable to the whims of whoever happens to be in the White House and chooses to enforce or not enforce the federal law.

The experiment playing out in Colorado and Washington reflects a choice between evils, rather than a vindication of pot as a fun thing to do.  On the federal level, it remains a Schedule I drug, which does little more than remind us that the purported significance of being a Schedule I drug is just plain goofy.  After all, it’s the “worst of the worst” drugs, highly addictive, dangerous and of no medical use. But, of course, everyone knows that’s nonsense. Yet, it remains right where it is, as does its punishment.

The fact that the New York Times has chosen to go out on a limb may well seem completely expected, but then, it’s also a significant risk.  First, the Times remains a staid newspaper, and it has put its credibility on the line with this position.

But second, modern liberalism suffers from the frequent hypocrisy and inconsistency of picking and choosing which sacred cow to promote, and which to condemn at its convenience, in its search for the perfect world through governmental regulation.  While crying for new crimes to stop bullying, harassment and revenge porn, the Times is often the first to sacrifice free speech to protect hurt feelings.  It’s never clear which right or interest will prevail among the editorial board on any given day.

I’m very ambivalent about the use of pot.  I don’t want a guy crashing into my car high on pot anymore than drunk on vodka.  It would be nice if there was a difference, but dead is dead, regardless of what political agenda stood behind my killer’s purposes.  Maybe pot smokers will be more responsible about its use than drunks, but I don’t want to bet my life on it.

Then again, I have spent more than 30 years watching kids get busted for pot. It’s impossible to reconcile the fact that some will spend years in prison for selling a substance that an awful lot of people want to buy, while others will do the same with alcohol and become respected captains of industry.

There are sound arguments to be made on both sides of this issue, and indeed, they have all been made many times over.  Ultimately, it comes down to a choice of whether we want to continue to put people in prison, with the stream of available marijuana users and sellers continuing to flow despite the perpetually increasing harshness of the war on drugs, or whether we have done enough damage to our own people in a lost cause.

And that’s a hard concession for the government to make: it’s a lost cause. The government scolds will not win.  No matter how many people they lock up, even assuming they run out of blacks and Hispanics and start locking up whites, they will not win.  Hell, they don’t even win with their own, though few will admit that they smoke pot at night even as they lock up other people for selling pot during the day.

It’s time to end the prohibition, less so because of some amorphous and debatable right and wrong, but because continuing the prohibition is destroying our country.  Will legalized marijuana be a bad thing for America?  Perhaps.  But criminalized marijuana has been our nightmare.  That experiment was tried for 40 years and failed.  Of this, there can be no question.

24 comments on “The Gray Lady Gets High

  1. Harry

    Regarding your legitimate concern about pot impaired drivers — they’re already out there. Irresponsible people who get behind the wheel after consuming marijuana are not at this time being stopped from doing so by prohibition. Legalizing use would of course bring some new users into the dynamic but hardly to the degree that the scare-mongering suggests, because most people that want to smoke pot already do. And even so, there is certainly the prospect that those new users would be consuming less alcohol than they otherwise would without legal access to pot. The alcohol industry surely realizes this as is evidenced by their continued lobbying and funding for anti-marijuana policy.

  2. John Burgess

    The cost — in money, in social breakdown, in crime, in incarceration — is too damned high.

    There was a War on Drugs. The Drug Warriors have lost, but they’ve inflicted countless casualties along the way.

  3. John Barleycorn

    Friends don’t let friends read the NYT!

    It’s a brave new world out there esteemed one.

    P.S. I wonder if being high would take the edge off the NYT editorial meanderings? I might have to try that sometime. Risky venture indeed but it might turn a the few winces into chuckles.

  4. Wheeze the People™

    I definitely have biases on this topic, given a dear friend and another dear friend’s daughter were both cut down in the prime of life by drunk drivers in the last few years. And these deaths destroyed those families. It was horrible. Drunk driving sucks. And I would suppose people who get high on pot sometimes also kill innocent people, though that has not been part of my life experiences, thankfully. Tobacco kills many of its users, for sure, but few innocents, though the societal costs, primarily through increases health care spending and family disarray caused by tobacco-related illnesses and death are likely staggering . . .

    However, IMO, all these substance should be legal without restriction, except to as appropriate age of use restrictions. Coupled also with substantive societal education about the responsible use of these substances, including balanced pros and cons of any such usage at all.

    I save my wrath for those who use substances so irresponsibly that they endanger or, worse yet, end innocent lives. In my world, vehicular homicide caused by gross substance impairment should equal a 25 to life prison sentence. The “one-death-and-yer-outta-here-idiot” law. Driving a vehicle at 2x or more the legal limit, you should lose your driving privileges forever. The “become-a-pro-at-using-public-transportation” law. Stuff like that — let’em drink, let’s get high, but for christ’s sake, you don’t get a pass to maim and kill innocent people . . .

    I could be very wrong on this topic because of my personal biases, though maybe not . . .

    1. George B

      I agree with Wheeze on several points. I too have no tolerance for impaired operators, for similar personal reasons. What is absolutely infuriating to me is the ability of cop after cop to waltz away, and KEEP their job after getting busted. With power allegedly comes responsibility; but only when a drunk cop maims/kills someone do they ever do time.

      But I doubt the Feds will change their tune as suggested. The War on Untaxed Drugs is the major WPA project for the law enforcement business. They won’t give up on that any more than oh, the Mob would walk away from garbage hauling.

      I disagree re: tobacco’s victims. One of the few societal improvements of the last 2 decades is the attitude (& legal) change re; no longer having to suffer from others’ smoke. If only it also applied to minors trapped in homes and cars with adult “guardians.”

      1. SHG Post author

        Funny how your sensibilities change when it’s someone else’s freedom that doesn’t implicate yours or annoys you. You are them, George, the moral scold who picks and chooses according to his own personal sacred cows, and then thinks it’s wonderful to impose your will on others. You just don’t realize it.

        1. George B

          I think people should be free to engage in smoking road tar or rotten eggs, as long as they do not force others to suffer from it. Those sufferers include flight attendants & other passengers, bartenders, students in class, & minor children. The victims also include those killed/maimed by impaired operators.

          What’s “picking and choosing” about that position?

          1. SHG Post author

            Two things: First, what does “do not force others to suffer from it” mean? Who made you the arbiter of who suffers? Is legality based on what annoys you (or someone else)? I gather you don’t care for smoke. Fair enough. Why does that not make it your problem rather than theirs? Nobody is stopping you from avoiding smokers, but you want to shut them down so you can enjoy your life without “suffering” them.

            Second, your second comment differs from your first (perhaps because your first was poorly written to express your intended point). You can’t move the goal posts. Well, you can, but don’t blame the reader for your lack of clarity.

            1. George B

              > Nobody is stopping you from avoiding smokers,

              I cited specific examples of victims who can not “avoid” the smoke[rs]. If you were a non-smoker made ill by same, and His Honor lit up, would you be free to walk out of court?

              > you want to shut them down…..

              No, I want them to limit their smoking to where it does not afflict others; other then that, let them at it…..

              What’s that line: freedom to swing your fist stops when it hits someone else’s face?

            2. SHG Post author

              Victims? Afflict others? Never mind, George. I get your point (and don’t really have any personal issue with it), but you fail to see the flagrant implicit bias in your argument. Time to move on.

  5. ecpa

    You’re right that this is a choice between evils, but there are choices to be made on the legalization side that will affect the magnitude of problems created by legalization. Mark Kleiman and Jonathan Caulkins both have a lot to say about this. Rather than linking, I’ll suggest Googling “Nonprofit motive” and “Jonathan Caulkins” for a nice short piece in the Washington Monthly. I’m hoping that we won’t see marijuana supplied by profit-maximizing corporations with incentives to encourage people to smoke as much weed as possible.

    1. SHG Post author

      Right. Or we can get pot from space aliens. I fully expect, given the producer requirements in Colorado, that the pot space will be owned by big pharma, big alcohol or big tobacco. The rigid requirements essentially preclude any possibility of this going any other way. Your idea has merit, but it’s Utopian.

      1. John Barleycorn

        Boo hiss. You are such a cynic esteemed one.

        The “medical” growers (100 plants or less in CA) are a very decentralized bunch currently a known and significant part of rural local economies.

        There are plenty of tools in the chest as future law makers throughout the land “toil”over the specifics with lobbyist at three thousand dollar dinners.

        As the pendulum shifts almonds, avocados, lettuce, etc…might not pencil out? LOL, wham bam-thank-you-man. Corporate farmers growing pot. Who woulda-thunk-it?

        He who has the water rights and sunlight will supply the nation most cost effectively. CA could grow enough weed in a season to supply the the entire nation ten times over if the gates come down.

        P.S. Idiots will continue to kill people behind the wheel for the indifiniate future. That just the way it is.

        P.S.S. If you ever cite the NYT twice in one week I am going to post photos of kittens and puppies.

        1. SHG Post author

          Lest you sweat too hard, the NY Times isn’t calling for legalization anyway, just giving the power to decide back to the states. Take a look at what’s happening to the medical growers in Fresno. It’s not working out very well at the moment. California, in any event, is not the paradigm as it’s only medical marijuana. See Colorado and Washington. That’s the experiment.

          The decriminalization is the first step, and we haven’t gotten anywhere near there yet. So far it’s just the Times. We can talk more when the feds remove pot from Schedule I.

      2. UltravioletAdmin

        The official federal growers work with big tobacco, so as a result they have the packing technology all figured out and on the shelf. Met a lady who was one of the federal patients, they are basically just odd colored cigarettes.

  6. Levi

    I’m sure the “drunk sex is rape” crowd would be happy to expand their advocacy into the “high sex is rape” space.

  7. Bruce Coulson

    The hardest thing for any bureaucracy to do is to admit they were wrong. I doubt the government will ever admit to having made a mistake in categorizing marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug; and they’ll only budge on legalization when the costs to the government (or its elected officials) become too high.

    1. SHG Post author

      All it would take is a chief executive with guts and integrity. Of course, we haven’t had one of those in a very long time.

      1. Fubar


        All it would take is a chief executive with guts and integrity.

        I may be out of my depth here. Not the first time, of course.

        Unless 21 USC 1703(b)(12) is repealed, it requires the ONDCP director to oppose any attempt to legalize any schedule I drug by any means necessary.

        Wouldn’t that obligate the ONDCP director to oppose a President on legalization?

        I don’t think it would obligate the ONDCP director to oppose the President on rescheduling. And rescheduling would remove the director’s obligation to oppose legalization. So a two step process would avoid a statutorily induced conflict between the President and the ONDCP director.

        Here is 21 USC 1703(b)(12), with my emphasis, to clarify my point (it’s short).

        21 U.S. Code § 1703 – Appointment and duties of Director and Deputy Directors

        (b) Responsibilities
        The Director—

        (12) shall ensure that no Federal funds appropriated to the Office of National Drug Control Policy shall be expended for any study or contract relating to the legalization (for a medical use or any other use) of a substance listed in schedule I of section 812 of this title and take such actions as necessary to oppose any attempt to legalize the use of a substance (in any form) that—
        (A) is listed in schedule I of section 812 of this title; and
        (B) has not been approved for use for medical purposes by the Food and Drug Administration;


        1. SHG Post author

          Let the president act downgrade it and see where it goes. We’re still a ways off from this issue.

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