Pubdate: Thu, 07 Aug 2014
Source: Albuquerque Journal (NM)
Copyright: 2014 Albuquerque Journal
Author: Jonah Goldberg, Tribune Media Services Inc.
Page: A6


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 magazine Reason has been waiting 
impatiently for the rest of us since it was founded in 1968. (The 
left-wing 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-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