I don’t know what Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been smoking. He wants to change the law so people can no longer be charged with a crime for having a joint in public view if they have it in public view only because a cop ordered them to put it in public view.
That’s the way things are now. If you have a small amount of marijuana (25 grams or less) in your pocket, and you get caught, that’s a mere violation, comparable to a parking ticket. But if you have it out in the open, that’s a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail, at least in theory.
So in New York City, where police carry out a “stop-and-frisk” policy on suspicious-looking people, a cop can order you to empty your pockets, and when you do so, if you produce a joint, what would have been a mere violation suddenly becomes a crime. That’s the way it worked until the police commissioner issued a directive last year to stop making arrests in those circumstances.
“I understand the police commissioner’s directive,” Gov. Cuomo said at a press conference the other day. “First I think it puts police in an awkward position to tell them to enforce some laws, don’t enforce other laws. I think that sets a bad precedent.”
So, with the support of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, he wants to change the law — make it a mere violation either way, whether the joint is in your pocket or in your open hand.
Smoking in public would remain a crime, as would possession of larger amounts.
This injects a measure of common sense into the legal treatment of marijuana, which is why I wonder what the governor has been smoking himself. You don’t suppose he’s been hitting the old water pipe, do you? I mean, common sense is the last thing you expect when the law comes up against man’s longtime friend Cannabis sativa.
What you expect is panic over reefer madness, as the fondness for weed was dubbed in the 1930s. You expect a reaction altogether different from the reaction elicited by alcohol or tobacco, and that is certainly a curious thing, since marijuana is relatively benign compared to those two drugs.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, alcohol causes about 80,000 deaths per year — including 13,000 from motor vehicle accidents and 12,000 from liver disease.
Tobacco causes or contributes to 443,000 deaths per year, or one in five of all deaths in this country.
The Centers for Disease Control has no category for marijuana-caused deaths, apparently because there just aren’t enough to be worth counting. Maybe the occasional stoned motorcyclist drives into a tree, but there is no such thing as a fatal overdose of marijuana. If you smoke 20 joints one after another, you don’t drop dead, as you would if you chugalugged a half-gallon of vodka.
Binge-drinking is a major problem on college campuses and causes at least a dozen deaths a year. Binge-pot-smoking? Never heard of it, and in my dissolute youth I considered myself something of an expert in the field.
Speaking of tobacco-smoking and its dangers, on my way back across the Canadian border last week after a visit to Montreal I stopped at a duty-free emporium and was flabbergasted to see the cartons of cigarettes for sale — cartons plastered with the most vivid and disgusting pictures of rotten gums, blistered tongues, bloody toilet bowls, and punctured throats. “This is what dying of lung cancer looks like,” was one of the bold-face messages, overshadowing the brand-name of the cigarettes.
Beautiful, I thought, as a partisan of truth-telling. Finally some honest advertising, courtesy of the Canadian government, and may the Lord make his light to shine upon that government for having the fortitude to require such truthfulness. It’s about time, I thought, as I wished a long stretch in purgatory for those who created those old cigarette ads showing fresh-faced models cavorting in verdant meadows and rugged cowboys squinting into the sunset.
Here, south of the border, we wait for the fight over graphic labeling to make its way to the Supreme Court.
But it’s funny — isn’t it? — that the selling of cigarettes and alcohol remains legal for all the known dangers of those products, while a tiny little change in the marijuana law is considered a big deal and might not even get the support of the Republican-controlled state Senate.
There were some 50,000 arrests in New York City last year for possession of a weed that doesn’t qualify as a cause of death at all, while every grocery store sells attractively packaged cigarettes and every bar and restaurant sells booze, which together cause more than a half a million deaths a year in this great country of ours.
Whatever our governor is smoking, I wish he would pass it around. I especially wish he would pass it to the Senate.