Pubdate: Wed, 19 Feb 2014
Source: New York Daily News (NY)
Copyright: 2014 Daily News, L.P.
Author: Harry Siegel
Page: 27


There comes a point when social arrangements that had been broadly
accepted are exposed as cruel anachronisms. Not letting women vote.
Banning alcohol (ironically, aided by suffragettes). Not letting
homosexuals marry. Arresting people for a joint.

Eventually, America tends to get these things right - but that's cold
comfort to those damaged by mean, stupid laws in the meantime. How do
you ask someone to be the last person punished for a mistake widely
recognized as one?

On marijuana, New Yorkers are ready for a change. It's our
politicians, Gov. Cuomo chief among them, who won't heed the will of
the people.

Nearly three in five of us think recreational marijuana should be
legal, with a majority of every age group except senior citizens
agreeing. Eighty-three percent of voters under 30 support it, as do
most Democrats and independents, and even two in five Republicans.
Women support it. Men support it by nearly two-to-one.

Nearly half of us say we've used marijuana. I know carpenters,
professors, housewives, law-enforcement officials and plenty of other
people who use it. You know some, too, whether you know it or not.

Criminalizing common behavior is bad news, and New Yorkers know

Whatever damage pot does, the law isn't doing much, if anything, to
restrain it, while it's plainly adding new damages - arrests and
needless criminal records, meted out mostly to the most vulnerable
among us, who are more likely to be stopped, more likely to end up in
the criminal justice system and more likely to be damaged by it.

Young men of color are no more likely than their white peers to smoke
weed - they're just much more likely to be punished for it. That's not

After two decades of falling crime rates, prison populations are still
rising nationwide, and marijuana is a big reason why. That's not right.

In New York, 97% of marijuana arrests are for possession. That's not

Especially when the internet has made street-level selling much more
rare. Juice shops now sell juice, not dime bags.

Those 65 and older remain strongly (38-57) against legalization and,
of course, they vote, which helps explain why Cuomo's office declared
a bill from Manhattan State Sen. Liz Krueger to legalize, tax and
regulate it "a non-starter."

Krueger says older people tell her "my doctor said marijuana might be
helpful, but they can't prescribe it. They say tell your kids or your
grandkids to get it. And the grandparents say to me, I don't want to
get my kids in trouble with the law."

So sick grandparents can't get weed, but about every 15-year-old in
the city can. Of course, what they're getting is completely
unregulated, sometimes laced - and, by definition, only available from
criminals, who are in endless supply.

If you arrest a murderer, there's one less murderer on the streets. If
you arrest a dealer, it's an opportunity for someone with hustle to
profit from market demand.

While Cuomo has given some ground on medical marijuana, offering a
limited and unimpressive plan in response to near universal (88%)
public support for it, he's yet to yield on commercial usage - even as
he's pushed hard to expand casino gambling.

No one goes bankrupt buying weed, but they do spend serious money on
it. A proposal put out last year by former city controller and mayoral
candidate John Liu used back-of-the-envelope calculations (it's tough
to come up with hard numbers for an underground economy) to
conservatively estimate that the New York City market alone would
generate over $400 million in tax revenue, while saving $31 million in
police and court costs.

That's real money, enough of it to pay for Mayor de Blasio's plan for
universal pre-K and afterschool programs for every junior high schooler.

I'm not much for high people, or drunk ones. But it's not the state's
business, and New Yorkers know it. The real question: Do we need to
wait for our parents and grandparents to die before we stop needlessly
arresting their children and grandchildren?

Legalizing marijuana would be a rare twofer for the state: a chance to
right a wrong and make money at the same time. And because Colorado
and other states have gone first - and haven't socially imploded - we
can improve on their models and deal with, err, sticky issues like
high drivers and protecting kids from edibles.

"It's not just the positive fiscal impact," said Liu. "It's
ameliorating pain and suffering" for people and communities.

"And it's already happening and picking up speed in other states and
municipalities. Its just a matter of time for New York."

Or we can cling to a cruel anachronism. Governor?
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