New York Times Declares Support for Marijuana Legalization

By Victoria Kim 10/14/14

The editorial board threw its considerable weight behind legalization efforts on the ballot this November in Alaska, Oregon, and Washington D.C.

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In light of the coming November general election, The New York Times editorial board declared its support for the legalization of recreational marijuana, which will be considered by voters next month in Alaska, Oregon, and the District of Columbia.

Published last week, the editorial called the federal ban on marijuana “misguided” and summed up the consequences of the war on marijuana in one sentence: “Decades of arresting people for buying, selling and using marijuana have hurt more than helped society, and minority communities have been disproportionately affected by the harsh criminal penalties of prohibition.”

The editorial board cited not only the social benefits of legalizing “a drug that is far less dangerous than alcohol,” such as ending “the injustice of arrests and convictions that have devastated communities,” but also the fiscal benefits such as having a new source of tax revenue. “This year, from January to June, Colorado collected about $18.9 million,” the board wrote.

Since Congress “shows no sign of budging,” the board said the better strategy is for states to take the lead on marijuana legalization, as Washington and Colorado succeeded in doing in 2012, when voters in both states approved recreational marijuana.

This November, voters in Alaska, Oregon, and the District of Columbia—where medical marijuana is already legal—will decide whether to legalize the drug for recreational use in their own jurisdictions. The board summarized the ballot measures that will be presented to voters in these jurisdictions on November 4.

In Alaska, Ballot Measure 2 would allow the cultivation, use, purchase, and possession of up to one ounce and up to six marijuana plants for those 21 and older. Initial oversight would be under the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, but the legislature would be able to establish a marijuana control board at any time. The plant would be taxed at $50 per ounce wholesale. Localities would be able to ban marijuana establishments but not prohibit private possession and home cultivation in the state, where current policies allow Alaskans to possess small amounts of marijuana in their homes.

Oregon’s Measure 91 would allow adults 21 or older to possess up to eight ounces of marijuana, purchase up to one ounce, and grow up to four marijuana plants in their household. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission would have the authority to regulate marijuana as it does alcohol. Tax rates have been initially set at $35 per ounce for flowers and $10 per ounce for leaves. The Oregonian noted that the proposed tax rates are low enough to compete with black market prices. If taxed too heavily, people would have an incentive to keep buying marijuana on the black market. Tax revenue from marijuana sales would be distributed to schools, mental health and addiction services, and local law enforcement.

The Oregonian editorialized in August that the measure would “be worth supporting for reasons of honesty and convenience alone,” as almost 65,000 Oregonians have the easily accessible medical marijuana cards. “Recreational marijuana is all but legal in Oregon now and has been for years,” The Oregonian editorial board wrote. “Measure 91, which deserves Oregonians’ support, would eliminate the charade and give adults freer access to an intoxicant that should not have been prohibited in the first place.”

In the District of Columbia, Initiative 71 would allow adults 21 and older to possess up to two ounces for personal use and grow up to six plants at home. The law would repeal all criminal and civil penalties for personal possession of the drug.

A recent NBC4/Washington Post/Marist poll found support among Washington, D.C. voters for the measure at 65%. However, unlike the other initiatives, a mechanism for regulating retail sales of marijuana would not be established because “the District of Columbia Home Rule Act does not allow a tax to be imposed by referendum,” the board explained.

“[T]he sky over Colorado has not fallen, and prohibition has proved to be a complete failure,” the board wrote in response to detractors of legalization who fear the worst outcomes from freeing the weed. In 2016, even more states are expected to consider legalization, most likely including California, Arizona, Nevada, Montana, Maine, and Massachusetts.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr