New York Times: ‘End the War on Pot’

New York Times columnist and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Nicholas Kristof has an excellent column on the NYT‘s opinion page calling to ‘end the war on pot.’

End the War on Pot
via The New York Times

Our nearly century-long experiment in banning marijuana has failed as abysmally as Prohibition did, and California may now be pioneering a saner approach. Sure, there are risks if California legalizes pot. But our present drug policy has three catastrophic consequences.

First, it squanders billions of dollars that might be better used for education.

… Each year, some 750,000 Americans are arrested for possession of small amounts of marijuana. Is that really the optimal use of our police force?

In contrast, legalizing and taxing marijuana would bring in substantial sums that could be used to pay for schools, libraries or early childhood education. A Harvard economist, Jeffrey A. Miron, calculates that marijuana could generate $8.7 billion in tax revenue each year if legalized nationally, while legalization would also save the same sum annually in enforcement costs.

That’s a $17 billion swing in the nation’s finances — enough to send every 3- and 4-year-old in a poor family to a high-quality preschool. And that’s an investment that would improve education outcomes and reduce crime and drug use in the future — with enough left over to pay for an extensive nationwide campaign to discourage drug use.

The second big problem with the drug war is that it has exacerbated poverty and devastated the family structure of African-Americans. Partly that’s because drug laws are enforced inequitably. Black and Latino men are much more likely than whites to be stopped and searched and, when drugs are found, prosecuted.

Here in Los Angeles, blacks are arrested for marijuana possession at seven times the rate whites are, according to a study by the Drug Policy Alliance, which favors legalization. Yet surveys consistently find that young whites use marijuana at higher rates than young blacks.

The third problem with our drug policy is that it creates crime and empowers gangs. “The only groups that benefit from continuing to keep marijuana illegal are the violent gangs and cartels that control its distribution and reap immense profits from it through the black market,” a group of current and former police officers, judges and prosecutors wrote last month in an open letter to voters in California.

I have no illusions about drugs. One of my childhood friends in Yamhill, Ore., pretty much squandered his life by dabbling with marijuana in ninth grade and then moving on to stronger stuff. And yes, there’s some risk that legalization would make such dabbling more common. But that hasn’t been a significant problem in Portugal, which decriminalized drug use in 2001.

… One advantage of our federal system is that when we have a failed policy, we can grope for improvements by experimenting at the state level. I hope California will lead the way on Tuesday by legalizing marijuana.

Win or lose, there can be little doubt that Prop. 19 has elevated marijuana legalization to a national, and rational, discussion at the highest and most respected levels of public discourse — as these recent pro-reform editorials from heavy-hitters like The Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, and Financial Times (just to name a few) illustrate.

For too long, proponents of the status quo — criminal prohibition — have argued that marijuana law reform should be a national issue, not a state issue. Well, if prohibitionists’ want a national debate, it’s clear that we now have one.

35 thoughts

  1. I love hammering the “conservatives” on the issue of socialist government interventions creating irrational values for the substance. 95% of the problems blamed on cannabis use are actually caused by the irrational value of the product, which is caused by government intervention.

  2. Well said. However, the current and former police, judges and prosecutors gain also through increased funding

  3. This is exactly what it takes,national recognition of the harms trying to stop drugs are worse than the drugs
    This will drive the cost of lobbying for a “drug free”
    society more expensive.
    Congress has 4 days to act on any of the numerous bills
    in committee and decriminalize marijuana at the national level to save millions of dollars the DEA is fixing to spend in CA.
    After their continued sticking their heads in the sand,I hope someone keeps a tally of the costs that are incurred by the federal government trying to police CA marijuana users.

  4. as citizens we must either end the war on our people or start to fight back .we out number and are armed better they better begin listning to the voters

  5. Good news folks!

    WASHINGTON, D.C. — While California’s marijuana ballot initiative is garnering a lot of attention this election cycle, Gallup finds that nationally, a new high of 46% of Americans are in favor of legalizing use of the drug, and a new low of 50% are opposed.

    Also, whats up with the chamber of commerce spending huge amounts of money against prop 19? I thought they supported business. Sounds like they have some dealings with cartels in mexico.

  6. California here I come ,right back where I started from ,where bowers of flowers bloom in the sun , a sun kissed miss said don’t be late, that’s why I can hardly wait ,open up that golden gate,California here I come ! YES ON prop 19 ! Thank you !

  7. NORML I just checked and the last 5 polls that were conducted show Proposition 19 losing. Do you think it’s rigged?

    [Editor’s note: Elections and polls are not rigged in America…generally speaking…and in most every pro-reform cannabis initiative the pro-side loses five to eight points from the time the campaign is announced until election day. Typically, these campaigns launch when polling consistently demonstrates 58% support or more. What was the percentage of CA citizens who supported ‘legalization’ when the campaign launched at the beginning of the year? Approximately 56%.

    Even if Prop. 19 were to lose by a few percentage points, it will be by many measures the most successful and cost-effective cannabis legalization project ever as the percentage of Americans who now support legalization has risen as the largest state in the nation kick-started a much needed discussion on alternatives to Cannabis Prohibition; more coalitions of diverse groups have resulted already–from unions to minorities to a new crop of high-tech billionaires; the last remaining groups who oppose cannabis law reform and their arguments have been exposed and vetted; the reform was funded by stakeholders and a cannabusiness entrepreneur on the ground (not a billionaire through a chosen, and often elite conduit); most of the editorials and columnists who oppose Prop 19 largely concede the failure of Prohibition and the need to reform the laws, while not liking Prop 19 as the reform vehicle.

    All of this, with a near 50% real voting total, is quite a base from which to build upon for another initiative, if need be, in 2012.

    Cannabis law reformers are not going away, but Cannabis Prohibition will, sooner than later because of the efforts this election cycle in CA in support of Prop 19 and legalization.]

  8. its about time some editorials for marajuana legalization were published .thanks new york times now if only the politicians would listen instead of spending our taxpayer money on a failed policy that most americans no cant be won and dont even want any more. every one in america has family that use pot none of us want our loved ones locked up or punished for marajuana why dont the politicians listen to americans please yes on prop 19 so other states will follow we need to put all new politicians in office and get rid of the currenyt office holders than maybe we would see change

  9. great article its about time we saw some good articles in favor of legalization the u. s. govt. needs to listen to the american people this govt. wastes enough taxpayer money legalize weed across the whole usa.i hope prop 19 passes if it doesnt it will be because all the growers and sellers in the state of calif. voted no so they could keep making thier untaxed illegal profits they dont care about the american people either, they just want to keep making money

  10. The Canadian perspective on all this is, what ever happens down south will eventually drift north. In our unfortunate case we got a Bush mini-me in the Harper Dictatorship up here. I take strength in the fact that Cannabis will be legal and Canada will follow the leader, in this case California. This is just the first domino to fall; it will take a while for the rest to fall.

  11. im from iowa and mj or i call ditch grows wild and waiting for somebody to harvest but wait its illegal and yet its illegal. look at all that money lost and iowa is just one state last i heard hemp makes mighty strong rope just ask the navy. cal you have the greatest reason to ever vote yes on nov 2 to lead the nation on the biggest boost this nation has seen since the great depression so come on vote yes on nov 2nd and help this baby crawl to life then we can teach it to walk to washington and become the law of the land

  12. We won’t really feel the tension till election day and then if your not registered to vote your going to be ridiculed and treated as an out cast. A little effort, a little help here folks and we all win BIG!!!!

    Where were you the day pot was legalized man!

  13. @Wow’s Editor’s Note: I wonder if there are any findings on whether people would vote “yes” if the prop was written adequately.

    I can understand that people will vote “no” on prop 19 because of its language. Considering all the MMJ users who are opposed, if the so-called “legal nightmare*” was turned into a well-drafted bill, then how many people would vote to legalize?

    If even just 5% did, that’s a 10% swing in favor of the “for” side — easily enough to outweigh any propaganda from the prohibitionists. (Or is the weed clouding my reasoning and/or hope?)

  14. Do the politicians have to take drugs test or are they above the laws they endorse / created ?

    [Editor’s note: Elected policy makers (and police) typically exempt themselves from drug testing….“Pee from thee, but not from me!”]

  15. Elections Rigged….Come on now thats just silly talk. The Supreme Court just recently put forth concrete laws to ensure that all future election would be free of minipulation of special interests and deep pockets. Nope the election process is perfect and without fault; if your in the top 1%……

  16. I believe if you lie to people before they vote alot of people feel defeated before they go.. What am I saying? Ok If the Legalization was the Most Popular Question at Obama’s First Town Hall Meeting that means that there is alot of Support for Legalization but If I lie to you and say it’s not gonna win, will you Vote? I believe Not.. I am for Legalization.. I am a Medicinal User in Michigan and I believe all should enjoy this Plant.. Also the Lies that it causes you to have accidents and such.. I have 0 points and No accidents on my record ever.. I have been driving for Companies since 1992.. I have Lived in St Louis, Missouri and Now in the Detroit Area.. Legalize and STOP the LIES..

  17. Thank You Mr. Kristof

    “Anti-Prop 19 Workplace Reefer Madness Ads Are Inaccurate”

    “The text of the Chamber of Commerce ad is as follows:

    Imagine coming out of surgery and the nurse caring for you was high – or having to work harder on your job to make up for a co-worker who shows up high on pot. It could happen in California if Proposition 19 passes.

    Prop 19 would do more than simply legalize marijuana. Prop 19 is worded so broadly that it would hurt California’s economy, raise business costs and make it harder to create jobs. Employees would be allowed to come to work high and employers would be unable to punish an employee for being high until after a workplace accident.

    Not only could workers compensation premiums rise, businesses will lose millions in federal grants for violating federal drug laws. California’s economy is bad enough. Prop 19 will hurt workers and business and cost jobs.

    Twenty five California newspapers, including the Chronicle and the Bee, and Dianne Feinstein agree: Vote No on Prop 19.”

    It easily could be read as-

    “The text of the Chamber of Commerce ad is as follows:

    Imagine coming out of surgery and the nurse caring for you was drunk – or having to work harder on your job to make up for a co-worker who shows up drunk on alcohol. It could happen in California if Proposition 19 passes.

    Prop 19 would do more than simply legalize marijuana. Prop 19 is worded so broadly that it would hurt California’s economy, raise business costs and make it harder to create jobs. Employees would be allowed to come to work drunk and employers would be unable to punish an employee for being drunk until after a workplace accident.

    Not only could workers compensation premiums rise, businesses will lose millions in federal grants for violating federal drug laws. California’s economy is bad enough. Prop 19 will hurt prison workers, blood and urine testing business, lawyers, judges, prosecutors, drug cops and drug sniffing dogs and cost jobs.

    Twenty five California newspapers, including the Chronicle and the Bee, and Dianne Stinkstein agree: Vote YES on Prop 19.”

  18. I can see it now – as people go to the polls some random church group being run by some millionaire pedophile televangelist will be out there giving tons of money to people to vote no.

    I might be over reacting, but I can’t see how the opposition would let this go easily, maybe I’m just used to the cartoonish extremes the churches will go to here in the south-east. Man I can’t wait until our country is majority atheist, there’s a reason nothing but bloodshed and violence happened in the middle/dark ages…

  19. Yup,Now they got their debate. Now,Let’s give them their green industry and green energy and just to shutup the lieing mouths.

  20. The #1 reason ALL cannabis consumers and growers shoulf vote YES on prop 19 is that it is crafted in such a way that it will defeat any Federal challenge to veto it. Richard Lee & the person hired to wordsmith the body of the law have created a set of laws that will open the door for legalization.

    Opening that door is the paramount action at this point.

    The fine tuning, to appease the minority that want their own needs met can be done at a sooner, but later date. In the mean time Prop 19 specifically mentions the subsections of prop 215 that gives medical patients more rights then the average recreational user will get.

    I understand it is not a perfect bill. But the door needs to be opened first. You cant please everyone when it comes to politics. The main goal of this bill is to get the arguement on the side of the fence that it has not been on in 70 years. From there it’s a cake walk to ammend and refine the finer points.

  21. To #17 Hell, yeah! If I have to piss in a cup just to get a measely paycheck that barely covers my expenses, then politicians should have to pee test every time they vote to give themselves a raise!

  22. living in West Verginia where the state is to stupid to even allow medical marijuana! Its about time its getting a national spotlite

  23. the government is taking my hard earned money out of taxes to spend it wastefully fighting for our favorite weed,which my freedom to choose is being invalidated,the gov. needs to let us have our freedom that is the basis of what our country was enforcement should not be putting us in jail or fining us.this is wrong!this is suppose to be a free country.quit wasting my money and invest it in marijuana.there are too many benefits and uses that we can’t overlook. also how many motorists on the highways are on painpills and other legal drugs why aren’t they being arrested? yes some 85 percent of senior citizens on all kinds of prescription meds.

  24. “Prohibition cannot be enforced,for the simple reason the majority of Americans do not want it enforced and are resisting its enforcement,That being so, the orderly thing to do ,under our form of government, is to abolish a law that can not be enforced, a law in which the people of the country do not want enforced.” Fiorello LA Guardia before the abolish of alcohol prohibition, circa 1937.

  25. You know, I have been smoking for almost 40 yrs, and never thought we would taken seriously, let alone a possible passed bill. We are almost retirement age, and cannot tell you how much we are looking forward to leaving this red-assed state and moving to S. Oregon next year. If Cali passes prop 19, they ( oregon ) will be next on the bandwagon. When the other states see Cali go into the black they will line up. Too bad they had to see how to make a buck before they could manage to round up their conscience and quit destroying so many lives for profit. Nov. 2 is a day to remember. Let’s all hope common sense prevails.

  26. I’m confused what is the point of having a State government if the feds can just step in and say no you cant do that? Sounds like communism to me.

  27. Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.

    C. S. Lewis

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