New York Legalizes Recreational Marijuana: NY Moves Forward From the War on Drugs

By Areej Ahmed

Copy Editor

Marijuana use in the United States became outlawed in the 1970s as a result of Richard Nixon’s War on Drugs. With the passage of the Controlled Substances Act, marijuana was placed in Schedule I, grouping it among LSD and heroin. To find out what prompted this, we turn farther back in history. During the 1900s, the United States was experiencing increased Mexican immigration as a result of the Mexican Revolution. Because many of these people brought cannabis with them for recreational and medicinal purposes, new fears were promoted by the media about men of color who used cannabis and incited violence against white women. As a result, the Marihuana Tax Act in 1937 was the first national attempt to control the sale of cannabis, and the passage of the CSA in the ‘70s solidified its status as illegal.

New York has recently joined other states, such as Colorado and New Jersey, in changing these laws within the state. Governor Cuomo signed legislation on March 31st legalizing recreational marijuana use for adults. Moreover, these new laws have prompted the records of people who have been criminalized for marijuana to be expunged. This is in an effort to bridge the racial disparities regarding marijuana charges where black people are fifteen times more likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana in comparison to white people. Hispanic people are five times more likely to be arrested. One of the key parts of this law is that it not only expunged records but also prompted the “resentencing for anyone with a previous marijuana conviction that would now be legal under the law and provides necessary funding.”

What do these new laws for residents of New York mean? As of right now, similar to existing laws regarding alcohol, those who are 21 years and over are now allowed to possess up to 3 ounces of marijuana or 24 grams in distillate or concentrated oil, such as cartridges. At home, people are allowed to possess up to five pounds of the drug. In addition, each household will soon be permitted to grow up to six mature plants of marijuana. Of course, these household laws are under jurisdiction and judgement of landlords and municipalities. 

Effective immediately, adults can smoke or consume marijuana recreationally in public places where it is allowed to smoke tobacco, according to the Clean Indoor Air Act. However, smoking marijuana is still not permitted in schools, places of work, and cars. This brings us to our next point: Driving while under the influence of marijuana use persists to be illegal. There is currently no way of determining whether someone is under the influence of marijuana in the same way that alcohol can be tested using a breathalyzer. However, police are allowed to pull over cars that smell like burning cannabis according to probable cause; though this does not apply to pedestrians who may smell like cannabis. 

In terms of the sale of marijuana, it is not yet legal due to the need for committees that regulate the sale of marijuana. However, dispensaries where people can buy cannabis in the form of flowers, edibles, and distillates are predicted to come into play sometime within the next year. Consumption sites are also in the process of becoming legal within the next several months. The tax revenue from the sale of marijuana is predicted to be $350 million annually. Forty percent of the tax revenue is to go to Education, 40% to Community Grants Reinvestment Fund, and 20% to Drug Treatment. 

While medical marijuana continues to remain legal in New York, the new legislation has created some changes that allow marijuana to become more easily accessible for those who need it. The new laws have been broadened to include medical conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease as well as allowing those who qualify to grow the plant themselves. 

The new marijuana laws may seem surprising and as though they came out of nowhere, but this has been something that Governor Cuomo has pledged to get done in his past three proposals. However, many speculate that Cuomo’s signature on the legislation may have also something to do with an effort to avail himself after coming under fire from sexual harassment allegations from several women who have come forward in the past few months. Regardless, the new marijuana laws are presumed to aid New York socially and economically by bringing in large amounts of tax revenue and bridging the racial divide by no longer targeting people of color in relation to drug possession.

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