The New York Times calls for the legalization of marijuana

The nation's largest newspaper urges Congress to take action

Published July 27, 2014 2:18PM (EDT)

      (<a href='">Peter Kim</a> via <a href='"">Shutterstock</a>)

In a bold and compelling op-ed adorned with an animation that morphed American stars into cannabis leaves, The New York Times on Saturday evening called upon the federal government to legalize marijuana for adults 21 years old and over, nation-wide. While, as Politico reports, other newspapers have come forward with similar endorsements, the Times is the largest U.S. newspaper to call upon Congress to repeal the federal ban on marijuana.

The Times likened the 40-plus year ban on marijuana to the 13-year ban on alcohol during the Prohibition era:

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.

We reached that conclusion after a great deal of discussion among the members of The Times’s Editorial Board, inspired by a rapidly growing movement among the states to reform marijuana laws.

In the past several years, the Times notes, nearly 75 percent of states have attempted to reform their marijuana laws by "experimenting with legalizing medicinal uses of marijuana, reducing penalties, or even simply legalizing all use."

While the infrastructure surrounding the legalization -- the new policies, business regulations and marketing efforts -- will take lots of time and energy to work through, the Times argues that it's an effort worth undertaking. In fact, it seems more irresponsible and costly to ignore it:

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.

We considered whether it would be best for Washington to hold back while the states continued experimenting with legalizing medicinal uses of marijuana, reducing penalties, or even simply legalizing all use. Nearly three-quarters of the states have done one of these.

But that would leave their citizens vulnerable to the whims of whoever happens to be in the White House and chooses to enforce or not enforce the federal law.

The social costs of the marijuana laws are vast. 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.

Though its faith in Congress is weak ("We recognize that this Congress is as unlikely to take action on marijuana as it has been on other big issues," wrote the board), in the coming week, the Times's editorial board will feature several interactive articles further examining the subject, in a series cleverly titled "High Time." Editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal will host a live chat to discuss the series Monday at 4:20 PM ET (notice the time!) on the Times's Facebook page.

By Prachi Gupta

Prachi Gupta is an Assistant News Editor for Salon, focusing on pop culture. Follow her on Twitter at @prachigu or email her at

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Cannabis Congress Drugs Marijuana Marijuana Legalization New York Times Prohibition