Pubdate: Thu, 21 Mar 2013
Source: Times Union (Albany, NY)
Copyright: 2013 Capital Newspapers Division of The Hearst Corporation


Our opinion: A state legislator is accused of marijuana possession. 
How can he not join the quest to bring some sense to New York's pot laws?

That was some traffic stop last week on the Thruway. The State Police 
did a lot more than pull over Assemblyman Steve Katz for speeding, 
and they dug up more than a minor case of possession of a small 
amount of marijuana.

Mr. Katz is one of the people entrusted to make the laws that the 
rest of us have to follow. So let's just hope that he is now ready to 
vote for a law that would legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes 
and decriminalize the possession of small quantities of it.

It was one thing for him to oppose a medical marijuana bill when it 
came to a vote in the Assembly last year. So did most other 
Republicans. Besides, who was looking to a first-term, minority party 
legislator from Westchester County to lead the fight for a humane law 
to help ease the suffering endured by victims of cancer, arthritis, 

But suddenly Mr. Katz is a central figure in the ongoing debate about 
marijuana laws in need of substantive change. The state trooper who 
arrested him might as well have said, "Step out of the car, and into 
the political spotlight, Mr. Katz."

How can a legislator who shows signs of using marijuana for 
recreational purposes continue to oppose a far more necessary use?

How, too, can the Republican Assembly leadership that's standing by 
Mr. Katz, despite an arrest that not so long ago would have derailed 
a political career, not reconsider its opposition to medical marijuana?

The usual political hypocrisy can't be tolerated this time - surely 
not by all the people tormented by relentless nausea, pain and 
anxiety for whom the legal use of marijuana could make life more bearable.

For their good, New York must follow the lead of 18 other states and 
the District of Columbia, which already have legalized medical marijuana.

It's to Mr. Katz's credit that he has spared his fellow New Yorkers 
the usual ritual of an insincere, politically motivated apology. His 
comments on his arrest have instead been a defense of his legislative 
priorities - specifically mandate relief, further improvement to a 
still-languishing economy and constituent services.

That's all fine, assuming that Mr. Katz now embraces the public role 
he can't avoid.

One of the other issues before the Legislature this session is the 
appropriate penalty for pot possession. Having a small enough amount 
of marijuana on your person - as Mr. Katz allegedly did - is 
penalized with the equivalent of a speeding ticket. But having that 
same amount of marijuana in what's considered "public view," even if 
it's put there as a result of a police order to empty one's pockets, 
is still prosecuted as a crime.

It's black and Hispanic youths, mostly, who pay the cruel price for 
such a double standard. And it's black and Hispanic legislators from 
New York City who are leading the fight the change that law.

Now comes an ally, surely, as invaluable as he was unlikely - a white 
Republican man from the suburbs. Mr. Katz can best survive the 
embarrassment of his arrest by confronting the very law that treats 
him so gingerly but others so harshly.

An otherwise routine police stop on the Thruway might be just what it 
takes to prod the Legislature into rewriting the unfairness out of 
New York's marijuana laws.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom