OK'ing pot & sex: Old media have new message

New York Times & Economist call for legalization

WASHINGTON, D.C. - First The New York Times devotes a full week of editorials to arguing for the legalization of marijuana. Now the venerable Economist magazine comes out and calls for the legalization of prostitution, particularly the online variety.

Are things going to hell in a hand basket? The Age of Aquarius?  A libertarian moment? A libertine moment? Or are old, establishment media trying to get hip fast?

The editorial pages of the Times are supposed to be the hymnal of contemporary American liberalism, so maybe its pot position isn’t much of a surprise. And The Economist is strictly and mischievously laissez-faire, so there is nothing inconsistent about it pushing a free-market for sex either. Still, they're interesting moves.

The Times began its seven-part series of editorials this way:

“It took 13 years for the United States to come to its senses and end Prohibition, 13 years in which people kept drinking, otherwise law-abiding citizens became criminals and crime syndicates arose and flourished. It has been more than 40 years since Congress passed the current ban on marijuana, inflicting great harm on society just to prohibit a substance far less dangerous than alcohol.

“The federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana.

“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.”

At the top of the Times’ list of reasons for legalization is the racial bias towards who gets arrested for marijuana crimes. “There were 658,000 arrests for marijuana possession in 2012, according to F.B.I. figures, compared with 256,000 for cocaine, heroin and their derivatives,” according to the Times.  “Even worse, the result is racist, falling disproportionately on young black men, ruining their lives and creating new generations of career criminals.”

When it comes to legalizing the world's oldest profession, The Economist is unconvinced by conservative, moral arguments against prostitution and by liberal ones that say sex workers are victims. The magazine argues the Internet can do more good than than anti-legalization efforts:

"Above all, the web will do more to make prostitution safer than any law has ever done. Pimps are less likely to be abusive if prostitutes have an alternative route to market. Specialist sites will enable buyers and sellers to assess risks more accurately. Apps and sites are springing up that will let them confirm each other’s identities and swap verified results from sexual-health tests. Schemes such as Britain’s Ugly Mugs allow prostitutes to circulate online details of clients to avoid.

“Governments should seize the moment to rethink their policies. Prohibition, whether partial or total, has been a predictable dud. It has singularly failed to stamp out the sex trade.”

What does the public think of all this? Americans appear to be rolling with the Times. A January poll by CNN, for example, found 55 percent support legalizing marijuana while 44 oppose it. That is typical of polling over the past year or so.

There’s not a lot of polling, at least in the U.S., about legalizing prostitution and it isn’t a topic of debate. Maybe that’s about to change.

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