For years now, people have been lobbying for the legalization of marijuana on the grounds that it should not be viewed differently from cigarette tobacco–due to its natural origins–and that its effects on the human body are far less dangerous than those caused by alcohol, which remains legal. There is also the argument that it could prove to be a huge economy booster if legalized.
But all that is beside the point, says New York governor Andrew Cuomo; one of the biggest problems surrounding the laws on marijuana is that they are inconsistent, and officials are spending time, money, and manpower arresting people in possession of it when they could be focusing on bigger problems in the streets.
Since 1977, the laws regarding weed in New York have been as such: if you carry 25 grams or less on your person, it’s a non-criminal violation that comes with a fine, providing you’re a first time offender. If you have it out in public, however–including being asked to turn out your pockets by police in accordance with New York’s highly controversial “stop and frisk” law–it’s classified as a misdemeanor. It sort of creates a no-win situation, and that’s what Cuomo wants to change by decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana altogether. According to the governor’s office, 2,000 arrests were made on charges of carrying small amounts of marijuana. In 2011, 50,000 arrests were made. That’s a huge jump, and, according to Cuomo supporters, a costly one.
“The human costs to each defendant charged with a misdemeanor are serious,” said Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. “The simple and fair change proposed by Gov. Cuomo will help us redirect significant resources to the most violent criminals and serious crime problems, and, frankly, it is the right thing to do.”
An overwhelming number of arrests made for small amounts of marijuana involve young hispanic or black citizens–82%, in fact–but being in possession of weed is a far more racially diverse thing. That brings us back to the “stop and frisk” law, which some say officials use to their advantage for racially-motivated arrests. Last year, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly had officers stop arresting those who were given a “stop and frisk”, and Cuomo is following up on that directive.
“I understand the police commissioner’s directive. First, I think it puts police in an awkward position to tell them enforce some laws, don’t enforce other laws. I think that sets a bad precedent in general,” Cuomo said.
While it’s still a long way from legalizing marijuana–Cuomo made it clear he’s not advocating that–it could be the first step in officials looking differently at it.