Legalizing marijuana in New York State has been under consideration since 2013 and is long overdue. Since Governor Cuomo has decided that recreational use of marijuana is not a bad thing for New Yorkers and the democrats have a majority in the state senate and the assembly and public opinion is in favor of legalization, then it seems all the ducks are in order to get this bill passed and made into law. Even the New York State Department of Health is in favor of legalizing recreational cannabis. According to a Quinnipiac University poll, “63 percent of New York State and City voters are in favor of legalizing possession of small amounts of cannabis for personal use” (McGovern). This legislation would permit adults over the age of 21 to sensibly consume cannabis within a regulated system. It would also allow adults to legally possess, transport, and consume up to two pounds of marijuana and grow up to six plants in their home. There are many benefits to permitting the use and sale of marijuana. New Yorkers will benefit from social reforms, the negative impact on the judiciary system, the racial bias, and the positive economic impact that recreational marijuana will have on our state and society.
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Marijuana has many slang names such as weed, herb, pot, ganga, bud and MaryJane. This plant derives from the dried flowers of the cannabis sativa. The main mind-altering chemical in marijuana, accountable for making people ‘high’, is THC or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol. THC is found in the resin produced by the leaves and buds of the female cannabis plant. The National Institute of Health states, “This plant is containing more than 500 other chemicals, including more than 100 compounds that are chemically related to THC, called cannabinoids” (NIH). Marijuana provides recreational and medicinal purposes. Pot has been publicly demonized for many years and the public has had a hard time accepting certain facts about this organic plant. It is known that “Marijuana is less addictive than tobacco or alcohol and compares favorably to those drugs on nearly every health metric” (Lorshbough ad McCormack). Marijuana has never been associated as a predetermining factor for any other disease such as lung cancer with tobacco or cirrhosis of the liver associated with alcohol. Addiction and dependence on marijuana is a relatively insignificant issue when compared to the abuse of alcohol or tobacco. It has been proven that the “claims that marijuana is a gateway to more dangerous drugs are as fanciful as the ‘Reefer Madness’ images of murder, rape and suicide” (Lorshbough and McCormack) It is time to end the prohibition of marijuana and realize that it is no different from when alcohol and tobacco were legalized for use and may in fact be less harmful than these lawful drugs. Marijuana has been portrayed negatively in our society for years and society has had an undesirable view on a drug that has many benefits; thus, hampering its legalization. The Public Health Law of New York State classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 Hallucinogenic substance. Based upon the law, New York penalizes the possession and sale of any amount of marijuana. Recent changes have decriminalized possession of small quantities up to 25g with a monetary fine for the first two offenses. The third offense can result in up to 15 days of incarceration along with a monetary fine. Youthful offenders who are caught with marijuana may lose their driver’s licenses for up to six months. Larger amounts of marijuana that are sold can result in a felony charge which could carry a sentence from 7 to15 years in prison. Trafficking weed can warrant a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 to 25 years of incarceration (Greenman). One would think that the thought of being sent to prison for using or selling marijuana would affect its use. The NY Times reports that 30 million Americans use marijuana every year (Greenman). People who are convicted of marijuana possession are not criminals and the majority have no prior convictions. The prescription of marijuana has always been racist. The Times has reviewed the history of marijuana illegalization and believes that “the campaign to make pot illegal was firmly rooted in prejudices against Mexican immigrants and African Americans, who were associated with marijuana use at the time” (Greenman). In New York City there is an unequal impact that is associated with marijuana arrests on minority communities of color. Nationally, African Americans are almost four times more likely than their white neighbors to be arrested for marijuana possession, and in New York state more than 80 percent of people arrested for possession was Black or Latino (Lorshbough and McCormack). This has a significant impact socially on the Black and Latino population who now have a criminal record which has a negative impact on getting housing and seeking employment opportunities.
Pros of Legalizing Marijuana
By legalizing marijuana in New York State, it will unburden our judicial system and our overcrowded prisons. Many resources are wasted by arresting these usual law-abiding citizens. It is sad that some of these people have spent over ten years in prison for just possessing cannabis for their own personal use. The New York Times reports that “each year, enforcing laws on possession costs more than 3.6 billion dollars, according to the American Civil Liberties Union” (Poindexter). New York is currently trying to eliminate the racially biased policing of marijuana usage and possession by issuing summons instead of arresting individuals. This is really no different than a traffic ticket. The economic benefits of legalizing cannabis will have a staggering effect on the state. When this legislation passes New York will be one of the largest recreational markets in the United States. This means that “New York’s retail cannabis market size would be worth an estimated 3.1 billion dollars” (Poindexter). These retail sales would contribute to a lot of tax revenue for the state. This could generate 436 million dollars in tax revenue in New York State (Poindexter). Currently, street marijuana sells for 270 to 340 dollars per ounce for mid to high-level-grade weed (Axelrod). According to New York State Health Department, “about 8.5 percent of New Yorkers, 21 and older, or 1.27 million would use marijuana, plus another 20,000 New York visitors would likely buy it annually if legalized” (Axelrod). Removing () for new marijuana businesses is a rule to keeping weed prices low enough to keep buyers from turning to the black market to purchase pot. Cannabis growers, retailers, and ancillary services are anxious to tap the virgin market of New York. The most effective way to generate this revenue is to develop a simple affordable tax base and create an open market. New York must also take its time to create a reasonable tax rate and not tax it at every level of production and distribution. Local counties should be responsible for creating their own tax base and determining where it will be legal to consume, how it will be sold, where it will be sold, and how the tax revenue will be spent. Legislatures need to be creative in the way they fund research on areas of marijuana usage, sales, and growth and create and pass property laws that give grants to future potential marijuana businesses Governor Cuomo’s commitment to implementing marijuana legalization will result in a billion-dollar revenue flow that will directly impact the lives of New Yorkers. The marijuana industry is creating jobs. The marijuana industry employs 200,000 people full and part-time across the country (Peoples-Stokes). This number will increase as more states legalize marijuana. This also has an impact on other industries in the area. It will bring additional revenue to legal services, tourism, financial services, construction business, real estate, and security. With people gaining employment it will also allow for more discretionary spending which will benefit their community. It is a full circle of revenue where many will benefit from the legalization of a plant. Prohibition of marijuana has caused many social issues. It has already been determined that Black and Latinos have suffered significantly due to the criminalization of weed. They are the target group for arrests regarding possession charges. This has an untoward effect on their future employment status. Roger Green a retired Pediatrician, believes that “former weed dealers should open their own businesses, and this will result in people becoming responsible citizens and it would also create economic and social benefits” (Axelrod). He believes this will develop into a positive relationship among the police and former dealers. They will have more respect for police because they will need their services to protect their dispensaries, shops or cultivating centers. Police would then be freed to conduct more important issues. Another issue with the criminalization of pot is that if a person gets a possession charge, they will be ineligible for financial aid for college. This will affect how a person betters themselves and their goals for future employment. Another social issue that legalizing marijuana usage will stifle the use of the black market where there are no standards, regulations, and price controls. People will not have to be worried about what fillers are used in their weed such as fentanyl or rat poisoning. It will also hamper the sale of weed to minors. It will be governed the same way as cigarette and alcohol sales to minors. A social strategy that was implemented to stop the war on drugs which includes weed, failed miserably at reducing drug use and cost the government 51 billion dollars annually (McGovern). The adage that marijuana was a gateway drug to harder drugs is a fallacy. However, legalizing marijuana has a positive effect on the state’s opioid epidemic. The New York State Department of Health reports that “in states with legal weed, opioid overdose deaths have fallen 25 percent” (McGovern). This also holds true with states who have medical marijuana programs. These states also have seen a reduction in opioid overdose deaths. The money that will be generated from the taxes collected on the sale of marijuana will be left to the discretion of the counties. Based upon the “Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, 50 percent of the money left over after researching and implementing the law would go towards the Community Grants Reinvestment Fund” (Lorshbough and McCormack). This program will offer job training programs, after-school programs, and community-centered projects to low-income communities in areas affected by the war on drugs. Another 25 percent will go towards funding drug treatment and public education programs. The remaining 25 percent will be allocated to public schools (Lorshbough and McCormack). There are many uses for the revenue produced by legalizing weed. It is suggested that a special cannabis tax fund be established so that money can be accounted for and the effectiveness of programming can be looked at. Others feel that the tax money should be spent on programming that would otherwise go unfunded.
Decriminalizes Possession of Marijuana
Governor Cuomo on July 29, 2019 signed legislation that decriminalizes unlawful possession of marijuana. This legislation will “reduce the penalty for unlawful possession of marijuana to a violation punishable by a fine and removing criminal penalties for possession of any amount of marijuana under two ounces, and creates a process for individuals with certain marijuana convictions to have their records expunged both retroactively and for future convictions” (New York State). This new law does not make marijuana use legal, but it is a positive start to ending the ineffective war on drugs. Governor Cuomo states that ‘Communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by-laws governing marijuana for far too long, and today we are ending this injustice once and for all,’ Cuomo said. ‘By providing individuals who have suffered the consequences of an unfair marijuana conviction with a path to have their records expunged and by reducing draconian penalties, we are taking a critical step forward in addressing a broken and discriminatory criminal justice process’ (Bump). Individuals can petition the court to have their criminal records destroyed. A message of justification that was attached to the new legislation states that 600,000 arrests were made in New York state for possessing small amounts of weed (Bump). This legislation will take effect in thirty days and hopefully will allow these individuals to remove the stigma and barriers that are associated with a criminal record and they can begin to live their lives.
Marijuana prohibition must come to an end. There are more benefits to the legalization of marijuana than not. One of the ways is to stop the anti-weed lobbying efforts from big companies such as pharmaceuticals, and the alcohol industry. They do not want the legalization of marijuana because it will have a negative impact on their bottom line. However, our state legislators must listen to the voice of the people. In New York most of the citizens want to pass the legalization of marijuana into law. The people of New York have spoken, and it is up to our legislators to develop a proposal that will encompass fair regulatory responses and open the market for a state that is desperate to improve their bottom line and represent their constituents’ wishes. Marijuana solves a lot of issues that New York has encountered and will allow people the freedom to smoke a bowl within the confines of the law just like a glass of wine or a cigarette. Now New York can concentrate on the war against Opioid drug abuse.