Legalization has a major new ally.
Late in July, The New York Times published a powerful editorial calling for full national legalization, making it the largest and most prestigious American media outlet to endorse reform to date.
Marijuana advocates praised the piece, saying it reflected “a massive cultural change in America.” Ethan Nadelmann, founder and executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, said the editorial took “intellectual and moral clarity as well as courage.”
The editorial, the first in a six-part Times series on marijuana in America, was a full-throated call for nationwide legalization. It pointed out the huge irony of a country where people can freely smoke tobacco, which has a yearly body count of about half a million, or drink alcohol, which kills tens of thousands, but can’t use marijuana, which has never killed anyone.
“There are no perfect answers to people’s legitimate concerns about marijuana use,” the paper said. “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 fall 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.”
All weed is illegal under federal law, though it’s allowed under the laws of nearly two-dozen states for medical purposes. Two of those states, Colorado and Washington, have also legalized pot for recreational use.
Until federal law changes, states that allow weed and the businesses that provide it will live under constant threat of a legal crusade by the DEA. Two things stand in the way of reform.
First, there are specific federal laws that ban the manufacture, possession, transfer, trafficking, and sale of marijuana under all circumstances. Second, the drug is listed on schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act, a Nixon-era law that bans or controls a long list of substances.
Schedule 1 belongs to the most dangerous, addictive, and medically useless drugs, including heroin, LSD, ecstasy – and cannabis. Advocates have argued for decades that this listing makes no sense: Study after study has shown marijuana is relatively harmless if used safely. Plus, it has many known medical uses.
But until the drug is removed from schedule 1, it will be impossible under federal law to allow it. President Obama has said he’s willing to work with Congress to reschedule weed, and Congress has shown some recent signs of life on the issue. Still, it’s unlikely the feds will make marijuana legal anytime soon.
And that’s exactly what anti-marijuana crusaders want. After the editorial, Smart Approaches to Marijuana issued a statement warning of “early data showing increases in poison center calls, treatment admissions and stoned driving in Colorado.” These things have indeed increased, at least according to early data, but only barely – certainly not enough to support SAM’s argument.
At The Times, reaction was overwhelmingly positive. Thousands of online comments by readers supported legalization, while far fewer opposed it. Times readers are relatively liberal, so that may not be a surprise, but it still reflects dramatically changing attitudes in the public.
“Anything predicated on ‘fear mongering’ (see ‘Reefer Madness’) is bound to fail,” one commenter wrote.
“This prohibition has gone on long enough,” another said. “As someone who suffers from a debilitating spinal disease, I could use the medicine.”