(AAron Ontiveroz, Denver Post file)

Activists react to New York Times’ landmark pro-marijuana editorial

The New York Times on Saturday digitally published a bold editorial saying that “the federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana.”

The paper’s message was straightforward and — surprising to many — thoroughly in line with what many marijuana activists have been saying for decades. While some readers may have been taken aback by the July 26 editorial, activists from D.C. to Denver say they saw this moment coming.

Related: The New York Times Editorial Board puts forth a pro-pot message

“I wasn’t really terribly surprised,” said Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, one of the largest trade groups in the American marijuana industry. “Colorado especially having taken the lead in replacing the criminal market with a regulated one has demonstrated to the world that not only does the sky not fall when marijuana is legal and regulated, but there are huge benefits to the economy and the community.

“We’re seeing millions in tax revenues and thousands of jobs, and at the same time crime is down across the spectrum in Denver and tourism is up — and people from throughout the country can now see what regulated cannabis looks like.”

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Mason Tvert has been one of the loudest voices in recent legalization efforts.

“The opinion of the nation’s paper of record reflects the opinion of most people in the nation,” said Tvert, director of communications with the Marijuana Policy Project. “I think it’s worth noting that one of the key reasons for the paper’s support is that marijuana is a less harmful substance than alcohol, and that’s a message that we’ve been conveying in Colorado for a long time now.”

The Times’ print edition pulled one line from the editorial and blew it up in a larger font for emphasis: “Marijuana is far less dangerous than alcohol.”

Tvert said he knew The Times was working on a major piece, as a number of Times staffers had recently been in touch with him.

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“I’ve been providing them information — individuals with the paper had been in contact with me looking for studies, looking for reports and so on,” Tvert said. “I didn’t know the nature of what they were working on. They didn’t say they were going to be supportive. They were just requesting information. But when somebody reviews the information objectively they arrive at the same position as The New York Times.”

Sure enough, The Times’ editorial in question was the first of seven stories planned by the newspaper. The second, “Let States Decide on Marijuana,” published July 26. The next piece, focusing on criminal justice and marijuana, will publish July 29 — and the package will conclude with a piece on pot regulations on Aug. 5.

Marijuana Majority chairman Tom Angell was quick to point out the predictability of The Times’ position. He referenced a Times editorial from June 28, 2013 on the United States Conference of Mayors, which had then passed a resolution saying that President Barack Obama’s administration should let the states make their own decisions on marijuana.

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The older editorial stated: “What the Conference of Mayors resolved seems appropriate — and sensitive to the reality that public attitudes toward marijuana are liberalizing rapidly.”

But Angell was equally quick to note the importance of the latest editorial from The Times.

“It’s not really a bold or courageous stance,” Angell said. “We see polls showing a growing majority of voters who already support the position.

“But it’s significant because it will probably encourage some political figures who agree with us behind closed doors to come out and say they agree with us publicly. When The New York Times’ editorial board says something, it shows it’s a mainstream position.”