Marijuana Justice

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A new legislative session in Albany means state lawmakers have yet another opportunity to end marijuana prohibition and create a legal cannabis marketplace with the potential of generating tens of thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue each year. 

The Long Island Progressive Coalition is urging New York legislators, especially those representing Nassau and Suffolk counties, to include in the state budget a common sense measure that taxes and regulates the sale of recreational marijuana. Such a measure should also ensure that a portion of the revenue generated goes to communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the disastrous war on marijuana.  

According to a recent Siena College poll, a growing majority of New Yorkers support legalization. Nationwide, support has risen to 67 percent. Eleven states and Washington, D.C., have already legalized marijuana for recreational  use, and several more states are poised to do the same this year, including New Jersey where lawmakers voted to put the question on the November ballot. 

It’s uncommon to find an issue on which such a large majority of Americans agree, regardless of their political party, but marijuana is one of those issues. Why is this the case? It’s because we know marijuana prohibition is bad policy, and that by all metrics it’s been a failure.

Marijuana prohibition is bad policy

The billions of dollars the U.S. spends each year on prohibition have netted what result? It certainly hasn’t stopped people from using marijuana, or decreased it’s availability. All it has done is create dangerous and unregulated illicit markets, and needlessly damage millions of lives. 

A better question is: why is marijuana illegal in the first place? Prohibition began as a racist endeavor, and decades of criminalization have disproportionately affected Black and Brown communities, despite the fact that white people consume and sell marijuana at the same rate. 

As pertains to Long Island, data shows that, outside of New York City, Nassau and Suffolk counties had the highest arrest rates for low-level marijuana offenses in the state from 2010 to 2017, with people of color being arrested and prosecuted at a significantly higher rate than white people.

The decriminalization and expungement legislation passed by the legislature last summer was a step in the right direction, but it simply does not do enough to help repair the damage done by marijuana prohibition. What is needed is restorative justice, including reinvestment in those communities that have been hit the hardest. 

Legalization is working in other states, and it will work in New York

Aside from the failures of marijuana prohibition, another likely reason a majority of people in New York and the U.S. support legalization is because they see that it’s working elsewhere. In fact, the lesson we should take from the states that have already legalized marijuana for recreational use is that the hysteria promoted by opponents has been misguided. 

Marijuana use among teens has decreased in states where it is legal. Legalization doesn’t increase crime rates, and studies have shown that legalization has not had a significant impact on traffic fatalities. In Colorado, DUI cases were down 15 percent from 2014 to 2017.Meanwhile, researchers continue to find better ways to detect intoxication among drivers. 

What legalizing recreational marijuana does do is make it harder for kids to get cannabis, and ensures products are inspected so adult consumers get products that haven’t been tainted; it creates new economic opportunities, jobs, and generates hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue; it means fewer opioid-related deaths; and, if done right, it means justice for the marginalized communities that have been the victim of disproportionate enforcement.  

So the choice is clear: State lawmakers can stick with the failed punitive policies of the past, or they can listen to the majority of New Yorkers and finally legalize marijuana for recreational use. 

 

For more information, contact Daniel Hopkins at dhopkins@lipc.org.