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.