New York has lagged behind the majority of other states with fully comprehensive medical marijuana programs and legal recreational pot use. But the topic has finally come before the state assembly. Is New York about to legalize recreational marijuana? This morning, 26 people testified before a committee to discuss New York’s future with regard to recreational marijuana legalization. We sat through the entire hearing, so you wouldn’t have to.
Here were the most pertinent and compelling testimonies:
Dr. Julie Holland has been a practicing psychiatrist for 25 years. Nine of which as the attending physician of the psychiatric emergency room at New York’s Bellevue Hospital. To begin her testimony in favor of legalization, she pointed out that all Americans consume drugs on a daily basis to change their consciousness. Drugs such as “caffeine, nicotine, anti-anxiety meds, antidepressants, sleeping pills, pain medications, alcohol and even sugar”. She likened the sugar cycle of crash and cravings to a “muted imitation” of a cocaine high.
Dr. Holland emphatically stressed that cigarettes and alcohol kill Americans en masse, whereas cannabis is non-lethal. She pointed out while cannabis is detected in urinalysis, more dangerous synthetic cannabinoids such as Spice or K2 are not and are being consumed by active members of the military. Therefore, she says that “our current drug policy is irrational.”
She says that a broad legalization of cannabis in the state is necessary to combat substance abuse, especially in light of the opioid epidemic which affects the entire nation.
The State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance cited some disturbing statistics. In 2016, the police arrested 23,000 New Yorkers for low-level marijuana possession at a rate of approximately 60 arrests a day. Of those arrests, 85 percent were minority millennials, ie. Black and Latino individuals under the age of 30.
Her colleague Alyssa Aguilera emphasized that this racial disparity was akin “A Tale of Two Cities with marijuana.”
As bleak as the situation is now, David Holland, Esq., Executive and Legal Director of Empire State NORML, is optimistic about the progress that has been made toward repealing prohibition.
When I first started practicing law, all conversations about cannabis took place either in prison cells or in hushed tones in back rooms. Today, we speak about it in corporate boardrooms.
Holland went on to say that there is no evidence to support the “gateway theory” which comprised the bulk of prohibitionists’ main source of propagandist rhetoric. “The FDA openly acknowledged in 2015 that there is no statistical basis to support that bogus theory.”
Additional speaker, Sheriff Barry Virts, who is the incoming President of the New York State Sheriffs’ Association, disagrees. In his own testimony, he shared the personal story of his son, who is currently recovering from a heroin addiction. Sheriff Virts testified that the first drug that his son experimented with was marijuana.
However, he conceded that he and his subordinates would abide by any decision the legislature makes.
“Whatever you enact,” he told the Assembly, “we’ll enforce.”
During his testimony, David Holland expressed dissatisfaction with the fact that New Yorkers cannot vote on this issue directly. They must instead rely on the decisions of state legislators. However, as the world just witnessed in Vermont, state legislation is not necessarily disastrous for the movement to legalize marijuana. So is New York about to legalize recreational marijuana as well? With these powerful testimonies from experts in their respective fields influencing the dialogue, New York could be the next state to legalize.