Legalizing marijuana has been a hot topic in our country and Governor Andrew Cuomo announced it will be one of his top legislative priorities for New York in 2019. With a number of other states also on the fence in making the change, Cuomo and state lawmakers are saying enough- let’s finally say yes to marijuana.
Cuomo’s New Stance on Marijuana
In a speech made at the New York City Bar Association, Cuomo outlined his agenda for the first 100 days into his third term, which included a proposal to legalize cannabis in New York for good. Not only would this move New York on the same path as a number of other states, Cuomo believes the change would go hand-in-hand with another part of his agenda- to create more equality within the justice system between the wealthy, well-off individuals and the rest of the population.
Important details of the proposal, such as taxation, business licenses, or where marijuana will be permitted to be used have not yet been revealed. It’s not clear as to what the age limit will be, how this will affect driving laws, or even how an employer’s current drug policies might be affected by the change. However, with a growing number of supporters backing the legalization of marijuana, and key players such as Cuomo flipping their opinions, it’s pretty safe to assume that marijuana will be legalized sooner than we’re prepared for.
Why The Change Of Heart?
Cuomo was in full support this week of making marijuana legal to use recreationally for adults, but this has not always been his opinion in the past. In 2017, Cuomo was highly opposed to recreational marijuana, unconvinced of the benefits to legalizing it and referring to it as a ‘gateway drug’. However, an article published by Business Insider after his Manhattan speech last week mentions his sudden change of heart could be due to the increasing public support for legalizing marijuana. A new study out of the Pew Research Center showed over 62% of the American population is for legalizing cannabis, showing a steady increase of support within the last decade. To gain support of the majority, Cuomo was forced to change his view on marijuana, whether it is what he personally believes in or not is hard to determine.
Which Side Are You On?
The topic of legalizing marijuana has been ongoing for decades throughout the United States. First, starting with the fight to legalize the drug for medical uses, and now, to legalize for recreational use as well. Similar to any other hot topic, there are outpours of opinions from both sides. While some are clearly on one side or the other, there are still a number of New Yorkers who are on the fence about the topic because they simply aren’t sure, or they don’t know enough about the pros and the cons to make an educated decision.
Pros of Legal Marijuana in NY
Let’s start with why legalizing marijuana would be a positive move for the state of New York:
- Regulation: One of the biggest pushes to legalize cannabis in New York and across the country is to stop the profits the illegal drug trade is making from cannabis. By legalizing marijuana, we can implement better controls the production, sales, and distribution of the product. This means implementing regulations and policies as we do for alcohol: deciding where, when, how much, and at what level is socially acceptable.
- Reduced Crime: With marijuana legal, the crime rate could significantly decrease. Thousands of minors are given harsh punishments for cannabis-related crimes every year and thousands more are arrested for multiple drug charges involving marijuana that would no longer be considered illegal.
- Increased Profit: It may not happen overnight, but the state would definitely profit from the sale of recreational marijuana. New York City alone could see a profit of around $1.7 billion a year according to an article by the New York Times off of cannabis products; a huge difference considering it’s currently only costing the state money in resources to prosecute and imprison marijuana offenders. In addition, marijuana is one of the most popular agricultural products in the country, meaning more opportunities for farmers to grow crops and more jobs available to process and sell.
- Positive Health Impacts: Alcohol and tobacco are both legal, yet both have known ingredients that are harmful to our health. In comparison, several studies have been done on the health benefits of marijuana, which has actually been used for various medical ailments for over 3,000 years! Conditions in which marijuana seemed to provide the most positive benefits include cancer, chronic pain, addictions (alcohol and drugs), depression, PTSD, social anxiety, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy and more.
Cons of Legal Marijuana in NY
On the flip side of the issue, here are the main reasons for why some New Yorkers are still opposed to legalizing cannabis and why it has taken so long to get to where we are on the issue:
- Regulation Flaws: We might be able to regulate the growth, sales, and distribution of legal marijuana more easily, but regulating its use can be tricky. Compared to alcohol, which remains in your urine for 3 to 5 days and in your blood for 10 to 12 hours, cannabis can stay in your urine for 7 to 10 days and your blood for up to 2 weeks. In addition, alcohol can be detected using a breathalyzer but there is currently no field sobriety test for cannabis. These factors make it much harder for law enforcement officers who suspect a driver is under the influence or an employer who believes an employee is actively using on the job, to make a decision based on current testing alone. Another opposing point when it comes to regulation is what to do with all the individuals who have been convicted of marijuana charges and are currently in jail. Do they get out? Can they dispute their sentence?
- Increased Pedestrian Fatalities: A report released by the Governors Highway Safety Alliance suggests that states where recreational marijuana has been legalized, pedestrian accidents and fatalities have gone up significantly. With pedestrian fatalities already reaching recording breaking highs, legalizing cannabis across the country could have deadly consequences on the road.
- Increased Traffic Accidents: One of the biggest concerns for most non-supporters of legal cannabis is that the roads will become more dangerous, and not just for pedestrians. People fear more drivers, particularly young teens, will be operating vehicles under the influence and causing more accidents and traffic fatalities. In addition, more individuals who may have feared the legal repercussions of using marijuana will be more willing to try it, and less aware of how the drug will affect their driving abilities even days after.
- Negative Health: With most drugs, there are both positive and negative consequences. Studies have linked the frequent use of marijuana to an increased risk of suicidal thoughts, depression, psychosis, respiratory diseases, and testicular cancer. Others opposed are worried that legalizing marijuana will build a larger generation of children and teens who are not socializing with the world around them and will have more difficulty connecting with others down the road.
Times Are Changing
Ten states have already legalized the use of recreational and medical marijuana. And now that the democratic party has taken over the state’s legislature, there is no doubt that legal cannabis is coming- it’s just a matter of when.