Pubdate: Tue, 05 Aug 2014
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2014 Los Angeles Times
Author: Jonah Goldberg


With the usual fanfare and self-regard we have come to expect from 
the New York Times editorial board, the prestigious paper has changed 
its mind about pot. It now believes that the federal ban on the 
substance should be lifted and that the whole issue should be sent 
back to the states to handle. Not only did it issue a big Sunday 
editorial (the equivalent of a secular fatwa in my native Upper West 
Side of Manhattan), but it has since been flooding the zone on the 
issue with essays from members of the editorial board.

It is a significant milestone, but not altogether in the way the 
Times would like. For starters, the Times is pulling a bit of a 
Ferris Bueller here. It is leaping out in front of a parade and 
acting as if it's been leading it all along. It's worth noting that 
the Times is 18 years behind National Review magazine and my old 
boss, the late William F. Buckley, and at least 40 years behind Nobel 
Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman, who wrote in Newsweek in 
1972 that President Nixon's war on drugs should be called off even 
before it started.

And the libertarian flagship Reason has been waiting impatiently for 
the rest of us since 1968. (The left-wing Nation magazine didn't get 
around to an editorial backing legalization until last year.) Many 
GOP politicians have beat the Times to the punch by years, including 
former Govs. William Weld of Massachusetts and Gary Johnson of New Mexico.

Conservatives and libertarians should always celebrate when liberal 
institutions finally catch up with them.

Still, I am more ambivalent about the national legalization craze 
than many of my peers, even though I've supported federal 
decrimalization (of marijuana, not narcotics such as heroin or 
cocaine) for more than a decade. I don't think smoking pot - 
especially to excess - is a particularly laudable habit in adults, 
and it's a very bad one for minors. There will be real social costs 
to legalization. But there are also real social costs to prohibition. 
Responsible advocates on both sides have recognized this for a long time.

Whenever policymakers in Washington are faced with a complicated 
issue with good arguments on both sides, the inclination should be to 
do nothing. That is different than saying nothing should be done. The 
best way to square the circle is to send the question back to the 
states to simmer for a while - or forever. And on this, the New York 
Times' tardy position, and emphasis, on empowering states is absolutely right.

"The federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana," 
proclaimed the opening salvo of a five-part editorial barrage. "There 
are no perfect answers to people's legitimate concerns about 
marijuana use," the Times admits. "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-andorder 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 Times' stand is also hypocritical (and not because it still 
requires its employees to be tested for pot use). In one of the 
companion editorials, "Let States Decide on Marijuana," written by 
David Firestone, the Times argues that "consuming marijuana is not a 
fundamental right that should be imposed on the states by the federal 
government, in the manner of abortion rights, health insurance, or 
the freedom to marry a partner of either sex."

There's a whole lot of question-begging there. But let's just 
stipulate for the sake of argument that all of these things are 
unquestionably "fundamental rights that should be imposed on the 
states by the federal government." What about cigarettes? Or the use 
of highway funds to force a drinking age of 21 (and, for a time, a 
55-mph speed limit)? When then-Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese complained 
about federal bullying on such things, the Times screeched in 1986 
that his "horse-and-buggy view of the national union" would make it 
hard for people to "ever to take him seriously." Perhaps an apology is overdue?

I'm delighted the Times is capable of realizing the error of its 
ways; I just hope it doesn't stop with pot.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom