Make no mistake about it.
The state’s legalization of recreational marijuana last week is not about civil rights or reducing discrimination against minorities.
It’s not about personal freedom.
It’s certainly not about public safety.
It’s about raising revenue for the state by expanding the availability of another unhealthy vice.
And if you like to smoke pot without getting in trouble and you’re OK with the state raising revenue and building upon its economy this way, then the legalization of recreational marijuana in New York is probably a good thing.
After years of effort by pro-marijuana forces, state lawmakers passed, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo quickly signed, a bill that legalizes the drug for adults 21 and over. You can now possess up to 3 ounces of marijuana for recreational use or 24 grams of concentrated cannabis, such as in the form of oil.
You’ll be able to store up to five pounds of it in your house if you make a reasonable effort to store in in a safe place. Eventually, New Yorkers will be allowed to grow a small number of plants in their homes.
You can smoke it in most places where it’s legal to smoke tobacco products. You’re not allowed to smoke it in a car, a school or a workplace, under the law.
There are penalties for violating the law, from small fines to a felony, depending on the violation.
Communities can create their own rules for where it’s allowed to be smoked in public, and they will be able to decide whether to allow marijuana dispensaries within their borders.
So while it’s not exactly a free-for-all, the law will significantly expand usage of the drug.
Again, for those who partake, it’s a big step forward.
Among the benefits of the law is that smoking or possessing small amounts of marijuana will no longer give police an excuse to harass or detain people. Minorities and poor people have long been victimized by this discriminatory approach to law enforcement.
But the state has taken steps, and could take more, to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana already. It didn’t need to legalize recreational marijuana for the general population and make it a legal business to accomplish that goal.
The law also doesn’t address the challenges faced by law enforcement of people driving under the influence of marijuana or the public safety aspect of more drivers potentially driving under the influence of marijuana.
There still is no reliable way to determine a level of intoxication similar to the way authorities can measure alcohol in a driver’s blood stream.
Unlike alcohol, the chemicals in marijuana can stay in the blood stream long after someone has lost the high, making it difficult to quantify a degree of intoxication.
Police will have to rely on observation until a reliable test can be developed, which makes enforcement much more subjective than for alcohol.
The state also has moved forward with legalization without setting up the legal structures for regulating or licensing sale of the drug. That’s all several months away.
And the state hasn’t addressed the potential health problems that will likely arise from more people smoking and being under the influence of the drug.
While proponents claim marijuana isn’t a “gateway drug” to harder drugs like cocaine or heroin, studies have shown that legalizing it for adults makes it more likely that younger people will either be able to access it before they turn 21 or will be more inclined to take up the habit when they do reach the legal age.
And workplaces will have to determine how they will deal with their employees legally smoking recreational marijuana on their own time.
For some businesses, they will adopt (if they haven’t already) a simple zero-tolerance policy, prohibiting all employees from coming to work with any traces of marijuana in their system.
For other businesses, enforcement might be more of a challenge, forcing them to undertake new measures to determine whether workers are under the influence of it or whether it’s worn off.
Either way, it’s possible the state made workplace safety a bit more challenging.
And we can see the litigation coming already as soon as someone’s fired for coming to work on Monday smelling like pot smoked over the weekend.
The law could create more problems than it solves, or the state can effectively manage it the way that more than 15 other states where recreational use is legal do.
One thing’s for sure. The state will reap some kind of financial reward from the licensing and taxation of the drug, perhaps $300 million a year.
New York has lost revenue from people going to nearby states to buy the drug legally, and this legalization is designed to counter that.
But revenue projections could be much less than expected, in much the same way the casino market didn’t pan out to the degree promoters envisioned when more casinos began opening in surrounding states.
But there’s no doubt it will bring in some tax revenue, perhaps a significant amount. And that’s the real justification for passing this law.
Will it be worth it?
Time will tell.