Colorado’s marijuana law was ‘bellwether,’ NYT editorial board writer says

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Photo: Marijuana (iStock)The editorial board of The New York Times says this week that the federal government should repeal its ban on marijuana and let each state decide how to regulate the drug, just as Colorado has.

"The legalization in Colorado and in Washington, these were bellwether moments because they crystallized what was essentially a kind of crisis of federalism over this question," New York Times editorial board writer Brent Staples told "Colorado Matters" host Ryan Warner. "When you guys legalized recreational use, that was a moment that we sat up and took notice."

Staples said now is a "crucial time" for marijuana laws in the country, and it was the board's duty to weigh in.

"We wanted to shed light on a growing trend in the country," Staples says. "If you look ... at the way the states were moving away from the federal ban in such great numbers, that shows a growing public sentiment that's opposed to the federal ban."

The board is explaining its stance in a series of columns that are scheduled to run through next Tuesday. Other magazines and newspapers, including National Review and The Seattle Times, have taken the same stance, but none as influential as The New York Times.

The Times' editorials are dissecting various arguments in favor of ending the federal prohibition on marijuana for people 21 years old and over. In Tuesday's installment, the editors write about criminal justice. "After three decades, criminalization has not affected general usage; about 30 million Americans use marijuana every year," they write. "Meanwhile, police forces across the country are strapped for cash, and the more resources they devote to enforcing marijuana laws, the less they have to go after serious, violent crime."

Editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal took to Facebook Monday to answer readers' questions. He addressed several disparate aspects of the debate about marijuana, including how to address past convictions for minor marijuana offenses.

"People who suffered under prohibition should be compensated in some way," Rosenthal wrote. "The quickest and best way to do that is a program aimed at getting them out of prison and getting their convictions off their records. The records of people who have been arrested but not jailed on minor pot offenses should also be cleared."

On Facebook Rosenthal acknowledged that many things would have to change if the federal government legalizes marijuana and defers to states on how to regulate it. Among them, how to allow marijuana businesses to bank legally. On that point, U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo., weighed in during the chat, saying, "I introduced legislation last summer to try to resolve the differences in state and federal law but no real solution has been reached yet."

Rosenthal responded that the Times will address that point in an editorial in the next week. "This is a huge problem and it is one of the big reasons for advocating a federal solution," Rosenthal wrote.