The Times is the biggest U.S. news publication to endorse reformed cannabis laws yet, and the editorial is a huge slap-in-the-face to antiquated laws that criminalize marijuana smoking and possession.
As part of a series entitled "High Time," the editorial board is rolling out a six-part interactive examining state laws, the criminal justice system, the history, health, track record and regulation surrounding marijuana.
Reforming marijuana legislation: In their landmark announcement, the board likens marijuana laws to Prohibition in the 1920s that saw "13 years in which people kept drinking, otherwise law-abiding citizens became criminals and crime syndicates arose and flourished."
"There are no perfect answers to people's legitimate concerns about marijuana use," the board writes. "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."
The editorial board cites the extensive cost of marijuana laws that not only cripple the justice system but tend toward racist practices and destroy many lives. Additionally, because of federal laws, 658,000 marijuana possession arrests were made in 2012 while there were only 256,000 arrests for cocaine, heroin and their derivatives, reports the New York Times.
Legal patchwork. As the Times points out, a series of complicated drug laws have turned the United States into a mismatched patchwork of marijuana laws.
Image Credit: The New York Times
One of the biggest issues, though, is the Controlled Substances Act, the federal ban passed by Congress in 1970, which considers marijuana a Schedule I controlled substance without any medical use but with dangerous and mind-altering effects.
Despite this, almost three-fourths of the states have undermined the archaic ban by legalizing marijuana outright, as in the case of Washington and Colorado, or by decriminalizing it or permitting medical use.
The editorial board's David Firestone suggests that since there is a growing sentiment of approval among Americans, a more accepting Congress and a president who sees marijuana as less dangerous than alcohol, each state needs to have the ability to "make their own decisions on marijuana." To achieve this, though, there would need to be "unambiguous federal action."
The takeaway: This is a big win for marijuana in America. Even though reformed marijuana laws still have several hurtles to jump through, the Times support is huge (think of it like an election endorsement). Finally, an esteemed media outlet is setting the bar. And other mainstream media companies will likely follow the Times' lead.
The federal ban has caused, "great harm on society just to prohibit a substance far less dangerous than alcohol," the editorial board explained. It took 13 years to repeal Prohibition and after the 40-year ban on marijuana, the time has come to repeal that as well.