Hey, you! Yes, you! Come over here; I have big news. Did you know that the war on drugs is wasteful and has not made a dent in drug abuse and trafficking? And that some substances should just be decriminalized? Amazing, right? Well, this revolutionary thinking comes to you straight from the nation’s most respected newspaper!

Apparently, the New York Times and the Guardian think this is a major novelty. This from the NYT:

The federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana.

We reached that conclusion after a great deal of discussion among the members of The Times’s Editorial Board, inspired by a rapidly growing movement among the states to reform marijuana laws.
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 social costs of the marijuana laws are vast. There were 658,000 arrests for marijuana possession in 2012, according to F.B.I. figures, compared with 256,000 for cocaine, heroin and their derivatives. Even worse, the result is racist, falling disproportionately on young black men, ruining their lives and creating new generations of career criminals.

There is honest debate among scientists about the health effects of marijuana, but we believe that the evidence is overwhelming that addiction and dependence are relatively minor problems, especially compared with alcohol and tobacco. Moderate use of marijuana does not appear to pose a risk for otherwise healthy adults. Claims that marijuana is a gateway to more dangerous drugs are as fanciful as the “Reefer Madness” images of murder, rape and suicide.

There are legitimate concerns about marijuana on the development of adolescent brains. For that reason, we advocate the prohibition of sales to people under 21.

Creating systems for regulating manufacture, sale and marketing will be complex. But those problems are solvable, and would have long been dealt with had we as a nation not clung to the decision to make marijuana production and use a federal crime.

The newspaper invites readers to participate in debate. And it’s great that big periodicals are getting behind the cause. But–really, NYT? You’ve only now reached this conclusion “after a great deal of discussion”? Where the heck were you doing journalism in the last forty years, on Mars?

I think Nate Silver is right on the money when he shows why the NYT is getting on the bandwagon only now that it’s advantageous to do so:

Some of it is that I get irked when elites get credit for publicly taking “bold” positions that other folks came to much sooner. This is particularly the case when the position is one you’d expect them to have held in their private lives all along.

But there’s a particularly large gap between elite and popular opinion on marijuana policy. Consider that, according to The Huffington Post, none of the 50 U.S. governors or the 100 U.S. senators had endorsed fully legal recreational marijuana as of this April — even though some of them are very liberal on other issues, and even though an increasing number of them represent states where most voters support legalizing pot.

Perhaps some of this is smart politics — older Americans are less likely to support marijuana legalization and more likely to vote. But there’s also a more cynical interpretation: racial minorities, low-income Americans and young people are disproportionately more likely to be arrested for marijuana offenses than senators or newspaper editorial board members (or their sons and daughters). The elites may be setting the policy, but they’re out of touch with its effects.

That reminds me of Obama’s sudden change of heart in favor of same-sex marriage, after basically all ight-minded people had moved to the other side.  I expect more trendsetting and leadership from a world-class newspaper than from a politician.

And also, regulation “will be complex”? What about all the hundreds of thousands of good people doing work on this for the last few decades? What about the blueprints easily available, and all the debates already on the record?

Don’t get me wrong; of course this is better than supporting the war on drugs. But I’m dismayed to see such cowardice and Johnny-come-lately behavior from the New York Times. Next time, guys, wake up sooner. Perhaps that would save more lives and futures.

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