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Are New York Marijuana Laws A-Changin’?


BREAKING: Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance today has announced that, as of tomorrow, they will no longer prosecute any offense related to Marijuana possession or smoking.


During this midterm election year, there may be a different kind of fight in New York, as a governor’s panel just recommended that the Empire State legalize marijuana.

In a 74-page report, the committee made a number of recommendations. It concluded that marijuana should be legal to purchase for recreational use as long as the person is at least 21 and purchases no more than an ounce at a time. The panel also recommended that people with prior marijuana convictions have a pathway to expungement or record sealing.

Nine states and the District of Columbia have already adopted similar proposals.

The Pros of Legalization (De-Prohibition)

The panel report in this story touches on all three of the main arguments in favor of legalizing marijuana for recreational uses, a process that some pundits call ending prohibition.

Weed is safe. As the opioid crisis has escalated, this argument has become more and more attractive. Since the early 2000s, over 10,000 Americans have died due to opioid painkiller overdoses. Who or what is to blame for these deaths is a very hotly-debated issue. On the other hand, marijuana overdoses have killed zero Americans over that same period. THC overdoses may make people very sick, but these overdoses are never fatal.

The evidence goes back and forth on a related point, which is that marijuana is better than opioids when it comes to relieving pain.

The argument itself is a “gateway” argument. It’s designed to make marijuana seem more acceptable. To a considerable extent, that’s now the case. But the argument only goes so far when it comes to recreational use. Marijuana’s safety and possible efficacy are great arguments for medical marijuana, but not very convincing when it comes to recreational use.

Legalization makes money. For people in cash-strapped states like New York, this argument is very enticing. Moreover, there is some evidence in support of this position. Colorado and other states which have legalized marijuana have bolstered their sales-tax revenues.

But legalization may not be the money tree some people claim it is. Legalization increases the supply which drives down the price.

Moreover, there is a revenue offset. Marijuana fines and probation fees are big business. This revenue stream helps keep many courts and law enforcement agencies in the black. If it dries up, these entities could face some serious problems. In fact, some cynics believe that the revenue issue is the real reason that many law enforcement groups oppose marijuana legalization.

Marijuana arrests are unfair. Once again, there is little dispute on this point, at least on the surface. In many areas, non-white people are arrested and prosecuted for marijuana infractions much more frequently than their white counterparts.

But what happens when you look a little closer? The disproportionate marijuana arrests are not much different from other types of criminal law. And, while this argument certainly means that arrest patterns should change, it’s not really an argument in favor of legalization.

All this discussion may be much ado about nothing. Most all the marijuana initiatives which have come before voters in recent years have passed comfortably. Hopefully, however, this discussion gives you a little more insight into this important issue.



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