A strong national voice has joined the chorus of advocates for repealing the prohibition of marijuana. In a recent series of editorials, The New York Times has called on the federal government to remove the ban on marijuana.
The Times editorial board wrote, “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 Times’ strong position is unlikely to convince conservative members of Congress, nor is it likely to move that moribund body into action. But editorial support from the nation’s leading newspaper is nevertheless significant to moving this cause forward.
At the very least, it makes no sense to list marijuana as a Schedule I substance alongside the addictive drugs of cocaine and heroin. Even nicotine, the addictive ingredient in tobacco products, causes more harm to people than moderate use of marijuana.
And the social costs of banning marijuana are outrageous. Look no further than a case in Thurston County involving the sale of $6 worth of marijuana. The person who last week pleaded guilty to selling the marijuana spent 132 days in jail prior to settlement of the case. At a cost of nearly $73 per day, the jail time represents a bill of more than $9,600, minus an $800 fine the person must pay. This was not a good use of costly jail, legal and court resources.
The Olympian’s editorial board supported the 2012 citizen’s initiative to legalize possession of marijuana for adults over age 21, and to responsibly regulate a growing, processing and retailing industry that will return millions of dollars in tax revenue to the state.
Other newspapers across the United States, including the Seattle Times, have already called on Congress to remove the ban on marijuana. The New York Times will help this effort.
Just don’t expect a do-nothing Congress to respond any time soon.
While Congress does what Congress does best — obfuscate and defer action on the issues of the day — the White House and the federal agencies it directs need to start to act with more consistency when it comes to dealing with the two states that have legalized recreation marijuana use by adults.
U.S. senators from the two pot-smoking states illustrated the conflicting messages the federal government is delivering to the two states. On one hand the Justice and Treasury departments have issued memorandums describing the prosecutor discretion they intend to use on federal violations of marijuana laws. The federal priorities are to keep pot out of the hand of kids, pursue drug-dealing gangs and cartels, prevent driving under the influence of drugs and ban use of marijuana on federal property, including national forests and parks.
But at the same time, the Interior Department’s Bureau of Reclamation has ruled that water under its purview and distributed to local water irrigation districts can’t be used to cultivate marijuana.
The White House needs to take a leadership role on a consistent federal marijuana policy that respects the will of the people in Washington and Colorado.