What Atlantic Readers Thought About Marijuana in the ’90s

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In 1994, Eric Schlosser made the case for decriminalizing marijuana and eliminating mandatory minimum sentencing. Readers had a wide array of responses.

n 1994, eric schlosser was eating breakfast at home when he received a phone call from the editor in chief of The Atlantic, Bill Whitworth.

“Eric,” Schlosser recalls Whitworth asking, “is there anyone in prison right now for marijuana?”

The call came as a surprise. It had been only a few months since the publication of Schlosser’s first Atlantic article—picked up from the slush pile—on the New York Police Department’s bomb squad.

Whitworth told me that the idea had originated after he saw “a little piece in the Times” about a marijuana arrest in the Midwest. “I had just assumed that marijuana had been de facto legalized,” he wrote in an email recently, “unless you were talking about giant shipments from Mexico, or something like that.”

In fact, nearly 500,000 drug arrests involved marijuana in 1994—and that number would only grow in the coming years.

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