Legalize Marijuana- Then Free the Prisoners of the Drug War
After months of shifting viewpoints and newfound support from the likes of Governor Andrew Cuomo, the future of recreational marijuana in New York is again uncertain. As the legislative winds shift back and forth the wrong question is being asked. New York State should legalize recreational marijuana, and then atone for what occurred during its ban.
With increasingly more states legalizing marijuana, a lot of the negative stigma that once surrounded it has begun to dissipate. While there are some who still demonize marijuana, there seems to be more of a consensus on its beneficial effects outweighing its negatives. The major problem facing legalization now is the process in which these policies will change, and how different communities will face the repercussions of such alterations. The laws surrounding marijuana have significantly changed American society in the decades since the war on drugs, and legislators are making sure to carefully approach the issue as to ensure it benefits everyone involved.
While I wholeheartedly support the legalization of recreational marijuana in New York State, I also think that a lot has to be given back to the minority groups who were targeted by the war on drugs. A group of black lawmakers in New York State have warned Governor Cuomo that if people of color convicted in a marijuana-related crime aren’t allowed licenses to sell or grow the plant, they will block his proposal. While there has been some effort to right the wrongs done to minority communities during the war on drugs, none of the legalization campaigns in the states have laid out an economic equity program to coincide it. In short, an economic equity program would guarantee licenses and other forms of financial compensation to minority communities affected by the war on drugs. However, there has been effort to overturn many marijuana-related convictions, like in San Francisco in February when over eight thousand convictions were dismissed after the legalization of recreational marijuana through Proposition 64. It’s definitely good to see this happening, but it isn’t enough. Many individuals spent a large portion of their life sitting in prison for associating themselves with a drug that is now widely legal. More has to be done than simply releasing them of their convictions, there has to be some sort of financial support given that will compensate for the decades of discriminate targeting by drug laws.
Assuming that Governor Cuomo includes an economic equity program in his proposal, the legalization of recreational marijuana will provide extensive financial benefits for the state. According to New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer, New York State would make as much as $3.1 billion in additional tax revenue, as well as another $1.1 billion in New York City. Besides this, the already increasing acceptance of marijuana users will be amplified; encouraging more users who may have been held back by the negative stigma surrounding it. Instead of relying on deadly opioids which the government is funneling out to ‘treat’ health issues like chronic pain, people can utilize a more holistic method with less negative side effects.
According to the CDC, an average of 130 Americans die everyday from an opioid overdose.A scientific study shows that after legalizing either medical or recreational marijuana, states had a 24 percent lower opioid overdose mortality rate. Facts like these are one of the many reasons marijuana has gathered so much support in recent times. So many people want to utilize this substance that they know will help them, but are being held back by aging laws that continue to discriminately target minority communities. The longer it takes to legalize recreational marijuana, the longer the state government will deny itself the immense social and economic benefits that would aid both state wealth and citizens health, and the longer it will take for justice to be served to those who have so far been denied it.