A state-commissioned study released today by the New York Department of Health recommends replacing cannabis criminalization with a policy of adult use legalization.
The 74-page study, entitled “Assessment of the Potential Impact of Regulated Marijuana in New York State,” acknowledges the following:
“Regulating marijuana can reduce opioid use;”
“Regulating marijuana may lead to a reduction in the use of synthetic cannabinoids;”
“Legalizing marijuana will reduce disproportionate criminalization and incarceration of racial and ethnic minority communities;”
“Regulating marijuana will create jobs;”
“Marijuana regulation could generate long-term cost savings.”
The study’s authors conclude: “A regulated marijuana program enjoys broad support and would have significant health, social justice, and economic benefits. … Regulating marijuana enables public health officials to minimize the potential risks of marijuana use through outreach, education, quantity limits at point of sale, quality control, and consumer protection. … The positive effects of a regulated marijuana market in NYS outweigh the potential negative impacts.”
Commenting on the study’s findings, NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said: “The Department of Health ought to be praised for taking a sober look at the available evidence and issuing sensible policy recommendations. Criminalizing adults who use cannabis is a disproportionate public policy response to behavior that is, at worst, a public health concern — but it should not be a criminal justice matter.”
He added: “Despite nearly a century of criminal prohibition, marijuana is here to stay. Our laws should reflect this reality, not deny it, and lawmakers should govern and regulate the marijuana market accordingly.”
This announcement comes in the midst of an opioid and heroin overdose epidemic in the United States. New York City experienced 937 overdose deaths in 2015, 1,374 in 2016, and approximately 1,000 in 2017, once all numbers are finalized and verified. Statewide, New York saw 8,444 hospitalizations from all opioid overdoses in 2016, up from 2,185 in 2015.
Legalization will also lessen the racial disparities in arrest among white people and people of color. This change in policy will let those who self-medicate with marijuana to receive a medical card and will less their fear of being arrested for marijuana possession. In the first three months of 2018, 89% of those arrested in New York City for marijuana possession were black or Hispanic, despite survey evidence that people of several races smoke cannabis at similar rates. Over the last three years in New York City, black people were arrested on low-level marijuana charges at a rate eight times that of white people. In Manhattan, this ratio surges to fifteen. Despite a similar number of calls to 911 and 311 (an NYC helpline), marijuana arrests are higher in those city precincts whose populations are predominantly people of color.