Andrew Rosenthal, the editorial page editor of The New York Times, along with David Firestone and Juliet Lapidos, who contributed to a series of New York Times editorials calling on the federal government to lift the ban on marijuana, conducted a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) today. Though they briefly fielded a handful of other topics, they were there specifically to talk pot.
The Times’ editorial series on legalization has drawn a lot of attention. An endorsement of this kind carries a lot of weight and lends an air of respectability to an issue that many people had heretofore seen as just for stoners.
Rosenthal told Reddit participants that, “The editorial board decided to make the call after considering the high social costs, and general absurdity, of the ban — which is still based on the classification of weed as a Schedule 1 substance, like heroin and LSD. The series, which considered health, politics, history, criminal justice, and the experience in Colorado with legalization, led to a vigorous and fascinating conversation among readers on the Times site.”
The array of questions posed to the Times’ folks was in keeping with the usual no-holds-barred probing from Redditors. There were jokesters, but there were some hard-hitting interrogatories too.
One of the topics that Redditors took the Times to task over was how their “legalize it” stance conflicts with the Times’ own drug testing policy.
User “MarijuanaMajority” asked: “Former Times executive editor Bill Keller said on Reddit earlier today that the Times endorsing marijuana legalization while at the same time drug testing journalists for marijuana is ‘increasingly difficult to defend,’ pointing out its ‘inconsistency.’ Do you agree with him and the nearly 5,000 people that have signed a petition asking the Times to end the practice of checking the content of reporters’ urine before they’re allowed to byline stories?”
The editors on the AMA had an answer: “The issue of drug testing is a matter of corporate policy, and I don’t make corporate policy, and neither does anyone else in the editorial department. I was asked about this the other day by Chris Hayes and I said that if they asked me, I would say we should stop testing for marijuana use, but that I’m not all that sure I will be asked.”
Getting politicians to talk about legalizing marijuana, whether for or against, is pretty tough. For most candidates, there is no good answer that will no lose them voters. Rosenthal was asked about that, as well.
“I think the candidates should be honest in saying what their views are. This is just not a third-rail issue anymore. I’m hoping that a serious candidate will in fact endorse the repeal of the federal ban on weed. If I were moderating a debate in 2016, assuming things go on like they are now, then I would certainly ask about it. With any luck, more progress will have been made on this issue by then.”
The editors were specific in saying that they were calling for a lift on the federal marijuana ban, leaving the issue up to the individual states. Whether or not the states should allow legalization may be a different matter.
“What we have called for is an end to the federal marijuana ban, which will allow states to decide for themselves, based on the very kind of value judgments that David [Brooks] made in his column, and in other places. David would agree with us that the federal ban should be ended. He would then go on to argue that states should not legalize recreational use. That is just the kind of debate we need to have about marijuana.
Finally, Rosenthal pulled back the curtain on the reasons why the Times is addressing this issue now.
“Perhaps the biggest motivation for doing this series, and making such a big deal out of it, is that prohibition repeal is a criminal justice and civil rights issue. The enforcement of marijuana laws has a heavily racist slant in this country. An African American is far more likely to be arrested for simple possession, put on trial, convicted and sent to prison. Righting this wrong is imperative. As a society we should never tolerate a situation in which young black men go to prison for doing some that well-off white people are doing with impunity.”
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