Before New York legalized recreational marijuana in March 2021, some marijuana advocates argued that legalization would reduce or eliminate the black market in marijuana and would therefore reduce or eliminate the violent crimes that often accompany drug trafficking.
At the time, that argument was less than persuasive. However, recent events in the city of Rochester have drawn it into serious doubt.
On July 21, 2022, Rochester Police Officer Anthony Mazurkiewicz was shot and killed in the line of duty. At the time of the shooting, Officer Mazurkiewicz and his partner were engaging in undercover surveillance following a rash of violent crimes. Officer Mazurkiewicz’s partner, Officer Sino Seng, was also shot, as was a 15-year-old girl who was nearby. The Rochester Police Department (RPD) contends that the violence arose from a dispute between two rival street gangs—the Bloods and the Crips—over illegal marijuana sales. The RPD asserts that the dispute led to five or more shootings, four murders, and three arsons during a five-day period in July.
RPD Lt. Greg Bello told WHEC.com that marijuana is “‘legal in small amounts for people to possess and for recreational use.’” Lt. Bello added, “‘But there’s nowhere legal for it to be sold or bought. So it’s created a giant black market.’” According to 13WHAM.com, RPD Chief David Smith stated that “‘[we] have so much unregulated marijuana and people are making a lot of money off of it [and] it leads to violence, it leads to feuds.’” During the course of their investigation, the RPD has seized 22 guns and approximately 139 pounds of marijuana.
Kelvin Vickers of Boston has been charged with the murder of Officer Mazurkiewicz and with two other murders. According to the Democrat and Chronicle, all three murders of which Vickers is accused occurred within one 48-hour period. Vickers is alleged to be an out-of-state hired gun who came to Rochester for the purpose of engaging in gang violence.
At an October 4 press conference, RPD Captain Frank Umbrino commented, “‘Everybody says, marijuana is a non-violent crime, right? Well, let’s tell that to all the people that got shot during this investigation all over marijuana. So, anybody who says marijuana is a non-violent crime, you’re wrong and this is clear evidence of that.’”