Pubdate: Wed, 06 Aug 2014
Source: Boston Herald (MA)
Copyright: 2014 The Boston Herald, Inc
Author: Jonah Goldberg
Page: 19


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

And the libertarian flagship magazine Reason has been waiting
impatiently for the rest of us since it was founded in 1968. (The
leftwing Nation magazine didn't get around to an editorial backing
legalization until last year.) Many GOP politicians 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 decriminalization
(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 for 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 six-part editorial barrage. "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."

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-Attorney General Edwin Meese complained
about federal bullying on such things, the Times screeched in 1986
that such a "horse-andbuggy view of the national union" would make it
hard for people to "ever to take him seriously." Perhaps an apology is

I'm delighted the Times is capable of realizing the error of its ways;
I just hope it doesn't stop with pot.

Jonah Goldberg is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and
editor-at-large of National Review Online.
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