The New York Times has given the pot-legalization movement a huge boost by coming out in an editorial today advocating for the repeal of federal marijuana laws.
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.
There has been far less research on the effects of pot on the body and brain than there has been on alcohol and tobacco. The evidence, for instance, that pot smoking can lead to an decrease in the production of serotonin — a brain chemical associated with mood and depression — is pretty well established. There is impact on memory, mostly long-term memory, as well as lingering effects on the heart, lungs, and kidneys.
The problem with the idea of “moderate use” is that the government defines “moderate” as smoking pot 3 to 8 times a month. It’s pretty obvious no one on the Times editorial board is smoking weed these days. Most pot smokers I’ve ever known — myself included — got high 3 or 4 times a week.
Then there’s the Colorado experiment with the jury still out regarding legalized pot’s effect on society. Taken together, the Times, in my opinion, is jumping the gun on national legalization, or decriminalization. What’s the rush? Let’s see how things work out in Colorado before we start debating the future of marijuana in America.