‘America Has Lost the War on Drugs,’ The New York Times Says, but Should Keep Fighting It Anyway
In 2014, more than a century after The New York Times began warning readers about the insanity-inducing, violence-provoking properties of “a harmless-looking plant” known as “marihuana,” the paper published an editorial endorsing legalization of a drug it had once blamed for causing madness, mayhem, and murder. That reversal happened 18 years after California became the first state to legalize medical use of cannabis, two years after Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize recreational use, and a year after Gallup reported that most Americans already favored repealing pot prohibition.
The Gray Lady’s cannabis conversion followed decades of hemming and hawing, during which the Times first toyed with the idea of “legalizing or at least decriminalizing marijuana” and then cheered on the Clinton administration as it threatened to punish doctors for recommending marijuana as a medicine. Today’s editorial urging the replacement of the war on drugs with “something more humane or more effective” is similarly belated and confused.
“America Has Lost the War on Drugs,” the headline says. “Here’s What Needs to Happen Next.” What follows is a mixture of sensible suggestions and dangerously misguided thinking.
Since the essence of the war on drugs is the use of force and violence to stop people from consuming psychoactive substances that politicians do not like, you might think that ending the war on drugs would entail desisting from that unjust, harmful, and manifestly ineffective crusade. But if you think that, you clearly are not a New York Times editorial writer.
“Criminal justice still has a role to play in tackling addiction and overdose,” the Times says. Why? Because “the harm done by drugs extends far beyond the people who use them, and addictive substances—including legal ones like alcohol—have always contributed to crime.” The Times thus concedes that the problems posed by illegal drugs are fundamentally similar to the the problems posed by alcohol, which the government addresses without prohibiting the manufacture, sale, and possession of booze. Might that approach be extended to other drugs?
The Times does not consider that option, despite the precedent established by its endorsement of marijuana legalization. Nor does it say exactly what role criminal justice should play in discouraging drug use, although the role it imagines clearly goes beyond punishing drug users who commit crimes against people or property, prohibiting reckless behavior such as driving while intoxicated, and enforcing age restrictions.
That does not necessarily mean the Times is OK with every detail of current criminal laws dealing with drugs. “The federal sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine should finally be eliminated,” the Times says. Since there was never a rational basis for that distinction, this recommendation seems unexceptionable. It is so unexceptionable, in fact, that even Joe Biden, who played a leading role in establishing draconian crack penalties, endorsed that reform 16 years ago, long after African-American politicians began objecting to the racially disproportionate impact of the bizarre sentencing scheme his legislation created.
But even if the federal government treated crack the same as cocaine powder, it would still be arresting, prosecuting, and incarcerating people for supplying it. The Times says nothing about that policy, which includes a five-year mandatory minimum sentence for offenses involving 500 grams or more of cocaine and a 10-year mandatory minimum that kicks in at five kilograms. Defendants with one prior drug felony convict
Article from Reason.com