The New York Times is putting its voice behind the growing calls for the United States government to end the federal ban on marijuana.
The editorial position published last week states that individual states should decide to what extent the use of marijuana is allowed (or not allowed)—be it legalizing medicinal use, decriminalizing, or even outright legalizing recreational use.
While the health effects of marijuana continue to be debated, The New York Times’ editorial position believes that the possibility for addiction and dependence is minimal, especially when compared to highly addictive but legal substances such as tobacco and alcohol. And despite the rather dubious and outdated claims of marijuana being a gateway drug, the editorial does note that, like alcohol, marijuana sales should be limited to those older than 21 to protect young developing brains.
The New York Times reasons that the social costs of the current federal ban, including the 658,000 arrests for simple marijuana possession in 2012, does more harm than good by sending these people to jail, ruining their lives, and creating potential for them to become violent career criminals. The editorial also notes that the outcome of the penalties is racist due to the penalties falling disproportionately on young black men. In all states except Hawaii, black individuals are more likely to be arrested for marijuana offenses—3.7 times more likely nationwide and as high as 8.3 times more likely in Iowa. This is despite the comparable rates of marijuana use among both blacks and whites.
Marijuana use is becoming more and more common and acceptable in America today, with various scientific polls indicating that more than half of Americans want marijuana legalized. Two states (Colorado and Washington) have already outright legalized the sale and recreational use of marijuana, and the sky has yet to fall in on them. Furthermore, nearly three-quarters of states have legalized medicinal marijuana, or decriminalized or legalized recreational use.
The war on drug users, and especially the ban on marijuana, has been a policy failure in the same way alcohol prohibition was some 90 years ago. The New York Times’ support for ending the prohibition is a significant step forward; however, it is not the first to voice concern about the current prohibition—and likely won’t be the last.