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.
The New York Times' opinion section has taken some curious steps in recent months when talking about marijuana. Last month, for example, Maureen Dowd wrote about a terribly unpleasant incident in which she ingested far too much pot and ended up "in a hallucinatory state for the next eight hours ... panting and paranoid."
It followed a David Brooks column from earlier this year in which he noted his own experimentation before concluding that he wants a society in which "government subtly encourages the highest pleasures, like enjoying the arts or being in nature, and discourages lesser pleasures, like being stoned."
One of the problems with Brooks' piece, of course, is that the United States doesn't just "discourage" the use of marijuana; we spend billions to fight it, imprisoning many of those who embrace the "lesser pleasures." It is, in other words, a prohibition -- which the editorial board of the New York Times now wants to end.
On the surface, it may not seem especially important to think a newspaper ran an editorial on legalizing marijuana. Lots of newspapers run editorials on all kinds of issues every day.
But in practice, the New York Times isn't just any paper, and the editorial board's willingness to adopt a bold stance on drug policy is emblematic of a national conversation has fundamentally changed -- and may never be the same.
The editorial itself acknowledges "legitimate concerns," before concluding that the balance "falls squarely on the side of national legalization."
"Creating systems for regulating manufacture, sale and marketing will be complex," the piece adds. "But those problems are solvable, and would have long been dealt with had we as a nation not clung to the decision to make marijuana production and use a federal crime."
Mark Kleiman, a national expert on drug policy, believes the Times' editorial is incomplete, brushing past some legitimate questions while ignoring others. His concerns clearly need to be part of the conversation.
But I'm nevertheless struck by the fact that a conversation exists at all. In the not-too-distant past, the idea of lifting the prohibition on marijuana seemed as fanciful as, well, marriage equality.
A societal evolution appears to be well underway.