In New York, marijuana reform has been a slow moving process – the state only just legalized medical marijuana in 2014 with what is known as one of restrictive programs in the entire country. Though there have been some additions to the law that will hopefully make medical marijuana more accessible to patients throughout the state, it still extremely conservative compared to programs in other states.
While outright legalization might not be on the table for New Yorkers just yet – even as their neighboring state of Massachusetts implements legalization over the next year and a half – decriminalization has more potential to become a reality in the state. Governor Andrew Cuomo has proposed statewide decriminalization to the state’s lawmakers.
“Recreational users of marijuana pose little to no threat to public safety. The unnecessary arrest of these individuals can have devastating economic and social effects on their lives,” Cuomo’s office wrote in its 383-page “State of the State” book that introduced the proposal.
In New York City alone, $75 million was spent on marijuana-related arrests – and 90% of those arrests had no subsequent felonies, meaning they were for possession alone. While Governor Cuomo believes that those who buy and use cannabis should not be arrested as it is a waste of funds and resources, he still thinks that those who sell illegally should be punished.
Current state law makes first time marijuana possession offenses a ticketed offense, similar to that of a traffic ticket; this proposal by the Governor would make this the case whenever someone is found in possession of marijuana, regardless of whether it is their first offense or their third. Many states have moved towards decriminalization to help reduce the number of people being incarcerated, as well as the number of those who are affected negatively by an arrest record.
“There should be a step two to this,” Steve Chassman from the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence says. “What are we doing around community education and prevention around marijuana? Are there moneys going to be allotted for school-based education around the dangers of marijuana?”
Chassman agrees with Cuomo on the fact that possession of marijuana should be decriminalized – but he also believes that they should utilize some of the funding previously used to pay for arrests to fund prevention and education programs, which is not an uncommon position. Even in states with legal cannabis there are prevention campaigns aimed at those under the age of 21 – however, these programs are only beneficial when they are truthful about marijuana.
If the state were to move to a policy of decriminalization, then they would be taking a big step towards ending the needless prohibition of the plant. While they would not be making it legal to grow, consume or sell they will certainly be ending the unnecessary arrests and the hardship that follows those who have a criminal record through their lives, while opening up the possibilities on where to allocate those dollars they will have freed up.