Governor Cuomo recently announced in his legislative plans that he would like to stop charging those caught with small amounts of marijuana. He explains that New York State has been wasting considerable resources by incarcerating non-violent marijuana users. However, Cuomo is quick to point out that he still wants to go after those who sell the drug. “The illegal sale of marijuana cannot and will not be tolerated in New York State, but data consistently show that recreational users of marijuana pose little to no threat to public safety,” the Governor wrote on page 191 of the report. In the announcement, he references the nationwide popularity of marijuana legalization as a primary motivation for softening his stance on the issue. So far, eight states across America have legalized marijuana for recreational adult use.
The Governor is right that we should stop persecuting non-violent marijuana users. This is clearly a futile battle that simply fills our prisons and creates criminals out of non-violent people. However, if he is serious about eliminating the problem of illegal marijuana trafficking in New York State – he should follow the example of other states that have ended their marijuana prohibition all together. When the U.S. attempted to prohibit alcohol, it created a black market led by such violent criminals as Al Capone and others. They made huge profits providing their drug to the American public who still wanted to use it. Once alcohol was legalized in 1933, this criminal industry disappeared. We can make the same choice today, if we so choose.
Perhaps the most confusing aspect of the Governor’s announcement is that personal possession of small amounts of marijuana has already been decriminalized in New York State since the Marijuana Reform Act of 1977. So exactly what change is Cuomo proposing? And by allowing personal marijuana use but continuing to arrest dealers, he is essentially telling people it is alright to break the law. How can people be allowed to possess it but not purchase it? Where should it come from? If he really wants to address the crime and other problems that come with marijuana prohibition, he should legalize the sale of the drug for recreational adult use.
Maximilian Eyle is a native of Syracuse, NY and a graduate of Hobart and William Smith Colleges. He has experience working in the drug policy field and writes about it every month for CNY Latino. Maximilian learned Spanish while living in Spain where he studied and worked as an English teacher.