NYT’s bold call
for legal pot doesn’t
go far enough
TV producer David Simon is a prominent crusader for an end to the war on drugs.
In a bold and prominent series of editorials, The New York Times has this week been calling for federal legalization of marijuana.
It is a courageous position and has sparked a national discussion about a topic bubbling up from the states.
But, alas, it doesn’t go far enough.
The 40-year war on drugs is the most corrupt federal policy ever, and it has a corrupting influence on almost everyone it touches.
The conversation should not start and end with pot. It should encompass the more fundamental proposition that substance abuse in general is not a matter for the criminal justice system at all.
Instead, it is a public health issue. Civilized countries have long moved in this direction. The US needs to evolve from incarcerating substance abusers to treating them. Not only would this be more humane, it also would save money and lives.
The Times was cogent and compelling on July 28 in its unusually prominent first editorial Repeal prohibition again.
“The federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana,” it said.
The New York Times’ first editorial on legalizing marijuana. Click image to enlarge.
“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.
“…[W] e believe that the evidence is overwhelming that addiction and dependence are relatively minor problems, especially compared with alcohol and tobacco.
“… [I]t is long past time to repeal this version of Prohibition.”
The debate has been prompted, in part, by the 2013 approval by voters in Colorado and Washington of full legalization, regulation and taxation of marijuana, now being implemented with few adverse consequences.
But the flaw in The Times and others’ position was made eloquently and passionately more than a year ago by one of the most persuasive advocates of comprehensive drug law reform, acclaimed director and former Baltimore Sun police reporter David Simon.
The director-turned-crusader was in the UK for a panel discussion and was asked his position on the marijuana ballot measures. It was reported May 25, 2013 in The Observer newspaper in
David Simon, creator of The Wire, says new US drug laws help only ‘white, middle-class kids’
“David Simon surged into the American mainstream with a bleak vision of the devastation wrought by drugs on his home town of Baltimore – The Wire, hailed by many as the greatest television drama of all time. But what keeps him there is his apocalyptic and unrelenting heresy over the failed “war on drugs”, the multibillion-dollar worldwide crusade launched by President Richard Nixon in 1971.”
A survey by the Pew Research Center showing a majority in favor of treatment, not incarceration. Click image to enlarge.
About his position on legalization of marijuana, he was forthright.
“I’m against it,” Simon told his stunned audience at the Royal Institution on Thursday night. “The last thing I want to do is rationalize the easiest, the most benign end of this [war on drugs]. The whole concept needs to be changed, the debate reframed.”
According to The Observer, “if marijuana were exempted from the war on drugs, he insisted, “it’d be another 10 or 40 years of assigning people of color to this dystopia.”
The war is about the disposal of what Simon called, in his most unforgiving but cogent term, “excess Americans”: once a labor force, but no longer of use to capitalism. He went so far as to call the war on drugs “a holocaust in slow motion.”
On this occasion and many others, Simon has cast the so-called “war on drugs” as a war on a permanent underclass of marginalized Americans, most of whom are people of color.
He was especially articulate on this topic in a 2009 interview with PBS host Bill Moyers, who introduced him with these words:
“For five seasons on HBO, [“The wire”] held up a mirror to the other America — the America we couldn’t see anywhere else on television. It reveals a lot about what’s happened to us in recent years, and it comes from a surprising source — a newspaper beat reporter turned television writer and producer.
“David Simon and his creative team, including Ed Burns, a cop turned teacher, used the City of Baltimore and the drug wars there as a metaphor for America’s urban underbelly.
“Through storytelling brutally honest and dramatic, Simon and crew created a tale of corruption, despair and betrayal as devastating as any Greek tragedy.”
Indeed, corruption, desperation and betrayal are apt words to describe the country’s obsession with criminalizing substance abuse.
While The New York Times call for legalizing marijuana is laudable, it misses the real target. That is why Simon opposes it; it is the low-hanging fruit, and would mollify a mostly white and affluent segment of the population while leaving those less fortunate to languish in a prison-industrial complex with no alternative.
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