The newspaper’s editorial board likened the ban on marijuana, which has been illegal in the country for 40 years, to the era of alcohol prohibition in the 1920s and 30s, saying it had come to the decision to back legalisation following a growing movement to reform marijuana laws in the country.
Individual US states Colorado and Washington both repealed state laws making the drug legal for recreational use while another 18 allow medicinal use.
Under federal laws which govern the nation marijuana is remain illegal, however the US department of justice has said it will not attempt to challenge the decisions of individual states to legalise the drug unless it conflicts with federal policies on trafficking or sale to minors.
The opening New York Times piece said:
“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 federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana.”
The newspaper is backing a repeal of the law citing scientific evidence that addiction is a “relatively minor problem” in relation to alcohol and tobacco, but advocated prohibition for under 21s due to potential effects on adolescent brain development.
It also said the social cost of the drug being illegal were “vast” and ”racist” with arrests for marijuana possession falling disproportionately on young black men.
“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.”
In an editorial blog about the series, opinion editor Andrew Rosenthal said the paper had long supported the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes but felt it was now time for a national approach to the issue considering changes in state law.
Rosenthal said the paper had support from the New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger and was seeking feedback from readers to “promote the national conversation.”