There is a strange smell coming from the hallowed halls of the New York Times this week. This storied institution, a bastion of the establishment, a print representation of the man, smells but not fishy. This smell is different. It kind of smells like a party, almost skunky. If it smells like weed around the New York Times office this week, that makes sense. The New York Times has officially endorsed marijuana legalization.
The announcement comes as part of a six week series the Times is rolling out. Using an editorial, the Times compared the marijuana ban to Prohibition. Between 1920 and 1933, the United States banned alcohol through the 18th Amendment, making criminals of ordinary citizens just looking for a drink. In 1970, 44 years ago, Congress declared marijuana a Schedule I drug, listing it among other, harder drugs, like LSD and heroin.
As the effects of the ban have come into focus many in the medical and law enforcement communities have begun to call for marijuana’s legalization. 35 states have already allowed for some use of marijuana medicinally, and Washington and Colorado have legislated for pot’s outright use recreationally. Alaska and Oregon will vote on whether or not to join them later this year. These laws all fly in the face of federal law. The question that remains to be asked, though, is whether or not these laws do more harm than good.
The Times cites the massive incongruity between marijuana arrests and arrests for other drugs. In 2012, there were almost three times as many arrests for weed than there were for cocaine. The New York Times also calls attention to the way that marijuana arrests also affect young black men and the way that being arrested for marijuana can affect their lives for years to come.
While states can pass their own marijuana legalization laws, the federal government has no obligation to follow those laws, especially since they are in opposition to its own marijuana laws. Most states will not legalize without a change in policy from the federal government. Marijuana growers and sellers who decide to abide by their state’s laws can easily find themselves in conflict with DEA agents and other federal agencies.
The New York Times puts itself firmly in the camp of “let the states figure it out”. They believe that allowing the states to work out any problems with the laws is the best way to eliminate any growing pains the government needs when making its own decisions. The Times applauds the Obama administrations decision to not prosecute people from Washington and Colorado as long as the two states follow certain guidelines, like keeping marijuana out of the hands of minors and organized crime.
Though complete marijuana legalization is not directly around the corner, the fact that that New York Times has endorsed it is a sign of the changing attitudes towards pot in America in the 21st Century. As more states decriminalize marijuana for medicinal and even recreational uses, the federal government will have to come to a decision.
By Bryan Levy