The Spectacle Blog

Cognitive Dissonance on Pot at the New York Times

By on 8.7.14 | 10:16AM

The New York Times editorial board has come out in favor of a repeal of the federal prohibition against marijuana. It has been nearly two months since Maureen Dowd shared her experience of overindulging on a pot candy bar, writing, “I became convinced that I had died and no one was telling me.” The strange inner and after life of Dowd aside, the Times has concluded that pot should be strictly a state issue, without federal ban or endorsement. In its series on the weed debate, the Times opened with a whole article titled, “Let States Decide on Marijuana.” Nearly three fourths of American states have implemented laws in some way liberalizing marijuana, ranging from exceptions for medicinal use to full recreational access, as is the case in Washington and Colorado. “For too long, politicians have seen the high cost — in dollars and lives locked behind bars — of their pointless war on marijuana and chosen to do nothing,” the Times argues. “But many states have had enough, and it’s time for Washington to get out of their way.” The conflict between state and federal policy, in other words, is damaging to good governance.

I happen to believe the New York Times is right here, that pot prohibition isn’t worth the dollars, years, and lives lost. “From 2001 to 2010, the police made more than 8.2 million marijuana arrests; almost nine in 10 were for possession alone,” Jesse Wegman writes in another of the Times’s pieces on the subject. He adds: “The strategy is also largely futile. After three decades, criminalization has not affected general usage; about 30 million Americans use marijuana every year.” Another Times piece examines the comparative dangers of pot to legal substances like alcohol and tobacco—hint: it’s less dangerous. “There is little evidence that it causes cancer. Its addictive properties, while present, are low, and the myth that it leads users to more powerful drugs has long since been disproved.” 

But just because the Times is right when it comes to supporting stoner states’ choices doesn’t mean there isn’t some major cognitive dissonance in the decision. Disappointingly, the Times editorial staff is unwilling to extend these arguments for federalism to other, more pressing issues, like abortion or gay marriage. “Consuming marijuana is not a fundamental right that should be imposed on the states by the federal government, in the manner of abortion rights, health insurance, or the freedom to marry a partner of either sex,” one editorial reads. “It’s a choice that states should be allowed to make based on their culture and their values.”

Of course, for an issue as fashionable as pot the Times is more than willing to trot out principles of liberty, to argue that an individual action without negative effects on others ought not be impeded. The stoner doesn’t hurt anyone, so he can take another hit. But when Michael Bloomberg proposed banning oversize sodas in New York the Times could muster none of this outrage. Indeed, the editorial board’s biggest worry seemed to be that “too much nannying with a ban might well cause people to tune out.” 

How the New York Times can use federalism and individual liberties, even vaguely, to advance marijuana normalization, and then spit at those principles on seemingly every other occasion is rather baffling. Perhaps Maureen Dowd isn’t the only one tripping on some pot candies. 

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