How should marijuana be treated under New York law? Should it be completely banned? Should it be legal for medicinal purposes? Or should our state follow the example of the nine other states that have legalized marijuana for recreational use?
The current legal status of marijuana in New York is a complicated matter. Under federal law, marijuana is a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act; Schedule I controlled substances are substances that have no currently accepted medical use and carry a high potential for abuse. State law, however, treats the drug differently. In New York, the possession of very small amounts of marijuana is punished as a violation, not a crime. The possession of larger amounts of marijuana remains a crime; possession of large amounts of the drug can be punished as a felony, as can certain offenses relating to the sale of marijuana. In 2014, the State of New York legalized the use of non-smokable marijuana by people with a narrow range of serious medical conditions. Since that time, the State has expanded the list of conditions that marijuana can be used to treat. However, smokable versions of the drug remain off limits to medical marijuana users. On August 1, 2018, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office will stop prosecuting some low-level crimes involving marijuana possession and use.
While Gov. Andrew Cuomo used to oppose the legalization of marijuana, the Governor has warmed up to the idea in recent months; at the Governor’s behest, the New York State Department of Health studied the marijuana issue and released a recent study recommending full legalization. (In response to the Health Department study, New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms told the Democrat and Chronicle that “‘Andrew Cuomo is a political creature and everything he does should be viewed through the lens of politics.’”)
A few weeks ago, the New York Post published an article stating that “cannabis industry experts” predict that recreational marijuana will become legal in New York. Legislation to that effect, known as the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (Bill S.3040-B-Krueger/A.3506-B-Peoples-Stokes), has already been introduced.
At New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, we stand opposed to the legalization of recreational marijuana. Our reasons are as follows:
- Marijuana is a dangerous drug. Short-term effects of marijuana use include “impaired short-term memory, perception, judgment and motor skills.” Marijuana use can also lead to “difficulty concentrating, dreamlike states, impaired motor coordination, impaired driving and other psychomotor skills, slowed reaction time, [altered] peripheral vision…, intense anxiety, panic attacks or paranoia,” bronchitis, respiratory problems, lung damage, and an increased risk of cancer. In addition, the American Lung Association (ALA) warns that “[s]moking marijuana can harm more than just the lungs and respiratory system—it can also affect the immune system and the body’s ability to fight disease, especially for those whose immune systems are already weakened from immunosuppressive drugs or diseases [such as] HIV infection.” Heavy marijuana use can lead to “decreased drive and ambition, shortened attention span, poor judgment, high distractibility, impaired communication skills, and diminished effectiveness in interpersonal situations.” Marijuana is dangerous to those who use it and can cause users to become a danger to others. Therefore, it should not become legal for recreational use.
- Legalizing marijuana would likely lead to increased use of the drug. The fact that recreational marijuana is illegal may keep some New Yorkers from trying it at all and may motivate others to use the drug less frequently than they would if it were legal. Is more marijuana use a good thing for our state?
- For some users, marijuana is a gateway drug. There is evidence that marijuana users are more likely to use hard drugs than people who do not use marijuana. A state that has already been devastated by the opioid crisis should do everything in its power to discourage its citizens from starting down the road to opioid addiction.
- No one needs recreational marijuana, and no one is entitled to recreational marijuana. Asm. Kevin Cahill (D-Kingston) and others maintain that the phrase “recreational marijuana” is inappropriate because marijuana is used for a variety of reasons. However, most marijuana users use the drug for recreational purposes. According to a 2017 study by Yahoo News and Marist College, 37% of marijuana users say that they use the drug to relax, 16% say that they use the drug to have fun, 10% say that they use the drug to be social, 6% say that they use the drug to facilitate creativity, and 3% say that they use the drug to improve their sex lives. By our count, then, at least 72% of pot users use pot recreationally. Medical marijuana is already legal in New York. Legalizing marijuana for non-medical purposes means legalizing it for recreational purposes. Let’s call recreational marijuana what it really is, and let’s be honest: Giving people access to their recreational drug of choice is not a valid basis for passing any law.
- Legalizing recreational marijuana has backfired in the State of Colorado, and New York should learn from Colorado’s mistake. According to Jeff Hunt, Vice President of Public Policy at Colorado Christian University, “[in] the years since [recreational marijuana use became legal], Colorado has seen an increase in marijuana related traffic deaths, poison control calls, and emergency room visits. The marijuana black market has increased in Colorado, not decreased. And, numerous Colorado marijuana regulators have been indicted for corruption.” Furthermore, Hunt asserts that “[since] legalizing marijuana, Colorado’s youth marijuana use rate is the highest in the nation, 74% higher than the national average,” Many of us have parents who asked, “If your friends all went and jumped off a cliff, would you jump, too?” The fact that several other states have legalized recreational marijuana does not mean that New York should follow their example.
- So long as federal law bans marijuana, legalizing it at the state level would create uncertainty and confusion. Legalizing recreational marijuana at the state level while it remains illegal at the federal level could mislead marijuana users into believing that their use of the drug will not get them into any trouble.
- Employers and landlords have good reason to “discriminate” against marijuana users and should continue to do so. According to TheCannabist.co, the proposed Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act would “protect against discrimination in housing and employment based on a prior marijuana arrest or off-the-clock marijuana use…” Marijuana use—whether “on the clock” or “off the clock”—can impair the judgment and functioning of an employee. Employers are entitled to expect their employees to be sober while working. Furthermore, landlords should not be forced by the state to allow the use of dangerous drugs on their respective properties. Recreational marijuana use cannot become a protected antidiscrimination category under New York law.
- Claims that legalizing recreational pot would bring financial benefits to the state should be regarded with skepticism. Advocates of same-sex “marriage” pointed to reports claiming that New York City would become a same-sex “wedding” mecca—yielding big bucks—if New York redefined the institution of marriage. Advocates of upstate casino expansion lauded the tax revenue that more casinos would create, but their revenue projections turned out to be far too high. Now, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer—an enthusiastic supporter of recreational weed—has released a report contending that recreational marijuana would be a big moneymaker for state government. We’ve heard these stories before. New York lawmakers shouldn’t start seeing dollar signs; instead, they should keep their eye on the ball and think about the other impacts recreational marijuana would be likely to have.
- It is immoral to “get high” on marijuana. Ephesians 5:18 says, “[Be] not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit.” It does not take a Bible scholar to understand that there is a larger principle here: God does not want us to become intoxicated. I Corinthians 6:19-20 says, “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.”
- The pro-marijuana movement is part of a broader cultural problem. Recreational marijuana advocates often take the position that persons prosecuted and imprisoned for marijuana-related offenses have been treated unjustly. Some advocates believe that the criminal justice system unfairly targets African-Americans and Hispanics in enforcing laws against marijuana (which, if true, is completely unacceptable; all laws should be enforced on a colorblind basis). Even if these arguments are true, however, they miss an important point: If you don’t want to risk going to jail for marijuana-related offenses, you don’t have to use marijuana in the first place. The choice to use marijuana is just that—a choice. Furthermore, it is a bad choice. The 21st century cultural tendency to blame outside forces for one’s problems instead of taking personal responsibility for them may, in the long run, be more damaging to our society than marijuana is.