07/29/2014 08:09 pm ET Updated Jul 30, 2014

Obama Won't Legalize Pot Just Because The New York Times Said He Should

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The White House has responded to New York Times editorials this week supporting marijuana legalization, saying ending U.S. pot prohibition isn't the "silver bullet solution."

The Office of National Drug Control Policy staff, while acknowledging the criminal justice system needs reform, argues in a blog post published Monday night that a series of Times editorials that began Sunday "ignores the science" and "fails to address public health problems" associated with a possible increase in marijuana use.

"The New York Times editorial team failed to mention a cascade of public health problems associated with the increased availability of marijuana," the blog post reads. "While law enforcement will always play an important role in combating violent crime associated with the drug trade, the Obama Administration approaches substance use as a public health issue, not merely a criminal justice problem.

"Any discussion on the issue should be guided by science and evidence, not ideology and wishful thinking," the blog post continues. "We will continue to focus on genuine drug policy reform -– a strategy that rejects extremes, and promotes expanded access to treatment, evidence-based prevention efforts, and alternatives to incarceration"

The Office of National Drug Control Policy, citing scientific studies, argues that marijuana is addictive, impairs development of brain structures, hurts academic performance in school-aged children and poses the threat of drugged driving on roadways.

The blog post also argues that legalizing weed would neither eliminate the black market for marijuana, nor guarantee that states will reap substantial revenue from retail marijuana sales.

"The White House should be commended for standing with the science -- not political ideology," Kevin Sabet, co-founder of anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, told The Huffington Post. "But we shouldn't be very surprised. The White House has repeatedly said they stand with the science on this issue. And the science says that marijuana can be addictive for one in six teens, it doubles the risk of a car crash, and it significantly increases the risk for losing IQ points and is connected to mental illness."

The New York Times editorial board argued that, after weighing legalization, the scale tips in favor of ending the ban. The Times acknowledges concerns about certain forms of marijuana use, including that by minors, and advocates restricting sales to those under age 21.

"There are no perfect answers ... but neither are there such answers about tobacco or alcohol," the Times writes. The newspaper says the concerns are outweighed by the "vast" social costs of marijuana laws.

Mason Tvert, communications director for marijuana policy reform group Marijuana Policy Project, fired back, saying President Barack Obama still has "some 'evolving' to do when it comes to marijuana policy."

"The White House is clutching at straws to make its case that marijuana should remain illegal, and the hypocrisy is as glaring as ever," Tvert said. "President Obama has acknowledged that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol to the consumer, yet his administration somehow maintains the position that marijuana is just too dangerous to allow responsible adult use. ... Nobody thinks ending alcohol prohibition was a bad idea, and it should come as little surprise that most Americans think it would be wise to do the same with marijuana prohibition."

To date, Colorado and Washington have legalized recreational marijuana for adults. Twenty-three states have legalized marijuana for medical purposes, and about a dozen more states are considering legalization in some form. Still, federal law considers all uses of marijuana illegal, classifying it alongside heroin and LSD as one of the "most dangerous" drugs.



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