Steve Chapman: Why Bad Policies Are Their Own Worst Enemy

Most people don't spend much time thinking about government policies, which is why bad ones can persist for years or decades.


New York Times
Andrea Puggioni / Flickr

Newspaper editorials rarely make news—I've been writing them for a long time, and, believe me, I know—but one did the other day, when The New York Times came out for legalization of marijuana. It was an agreeable development for anyone who, like me, believes in letting people live their own lives, even if they do it badly. But its significance is much bigger than that.

The Times' new policy highlights how much opinion on the issue has shifted on the legal sale and use of cannabis. Some 58 percent of Americans now favor it—compared to 34 percent in 2003. Two states, Washington and Colorado, have done it. The issue will go to the voters in Oregon and Alaska in November.

But this national shift is not heartening merely because it promises to reverse a policy that has been an extravagant failure. More important, it confirms that in the realm of government, Americans have the capacity to recognize mistakes and stop making them. Too many people know too much about pot to go on mindlessly banning it, writes Steve Chapman.

Bad policies, it turns out, are their own worst enemy. This is often hard to believe while those policies are in effect. The drug war began in the 1960s and isn't over yet. But experience is an unsurpassed instructor, according to Chapman.