By Alex Dobuzinskis
(Reuters) - The New York Times editorial board on Saturday endorsed a repeal of the federal ban on marijuana, becoming the largest paper in the nation to back the idea as it compared the U.S. government's stance on America's most widely used illicit drug to the prohibition on alcohol from 1920 to 1933.
The post on the newspaper's website is part of an editorial series that in the coming days will explore different aspects of marijuana use, from health effects to how the criminal justice system treats it.
"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," the editorial states.
"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 editorial under the headline "Repeal Prohibition, Again" comes less than two years after voters in Washington state and Colorado became the first in the nation to sanction taxing and regulating pot at the state level for recreational users 21 years and older. Marijuana stores have since opened in both states.
A number of other states, including Oregon and Alaska, will vote this year on whether to take the same step, and polls from the Pew Research Center and Gallup have shown a majority of Americans support legalizing weed.
The New York Times editorial cites the 658,000 arrests nationwide for marijuana possession in 2012, and the fact such arrests disproportionately ensnare young African American men.
It also finds moderate pot use poses no risk to otherwise healthy adults, but that concerns about the drug's effects on the adolescent brain should merit banning its use by those under the age of 21.
The New York Times, which on its editorial Web page showed a U.S. flag with its stars morphing into marijuana leaves, is the largest newspaper in the nation to take an editorial position calling for an end to the federal ban on marijuana.
"I think it’s playing right into the hands of this big (marijuana) industry that seeks only to increase addiction while reaping profits,” said Kevin Sabet, co-founder of the group Smart Approaches to Marijuana which opposes legalization.
A number of smaller newspapers, including the Newark, New Jersey-based Star-Ledger, have called for some form of legalizing or decriminalizing pot, which over 20 U.S. states and the District of Columbia allow for medical use.
(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)