Yesterday, law enforcement officials and state lawmakers got in line to pucker up to the rump of Governor Andrew Cuomo because of his plan to decriminalize “public view” marijuana possession. Cuomo’s move is being heralded as a civil rights victory for young Hispanic and African-American New Yorkers who are disproportionately hit with criminal charges for weed possession.
“What Governor Cuomo is
proposing, is a logical and, unfortunately, necessary clarification of
the law as it exists today,” Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver swooned yesterday.
We don’t mean to kill the buzz of Cuomo’s proposed “public view” weed plan, but it doesn’t make him a civil rights hero, it makes him bipolar — the governor still refuses to support the legalization of medical marijuana, noting that there are “tremendous risks” involved with allowing people who already are smoking pot to treat various ailments to do so legally (he’s yet to identify a single “risk.” More on that below).
If you’re not familiar with the difference between “public view” weed possession and private weed possession, click here
— but here’s the gist of it: In the 1970s, possession of small amounts
of marijuana (less than 25 grams) was decriminalized in New York,
meaning that getting cited for possession of marijuana is about as serious an
infraction as a parking ticket. However, there’s a loophole for law
enforcement that says anyone caught displaying their weed in “public
view” could get hit with a misdemeanor. For some reason, lawmakers in
the 1970s decided that marijuana in public is somehow worse than marijuana in a
person’s home, which is bullshit, but has given law enforcement the power
to disproportionately charge minorities with crimes, rather than
violations (see the stats here).
plan to decriminalize “public view” marijuana sends a message that
marijuana really isn’t all that bad — again, the governor wants to make
it about as serious an infraction as a parking ticket. Meanwhile, he’s
still weighing the “tremendous risks” of legalizing medical marijuana.
Time to pick a side, bub: either weed is evil and the risks are “tremendous” enough to
continue to villainize those who use marijuana for medicinal purposes, or it’s
as serious a problem as parking in front of a fire hydrant — and perhaps
regulating (and taxing) medical marijuana wouldn’t be the end of
civilized society as we know it.
Medical marijuana users,
obviously, would be covered under Cuomo’s proposed decriminalization of
“public view” weed. But — in addition to having to buy their “medicine”
from a drug dealer — they still run the risk of getting a ticket,
which isn’t the end of the world, but it’s annoying. It’s also something
people who are prescribed much more dangerous narcotic drugs — to
treat many of the same ailments — don’t have to worry about (as we’ve
mentioned in prior posts, nobody — in the history of weed or death —
has died from a marijuana overdose. The same cannot be said about the
majority of legal narcotic prescription drugs — like Oxycontin — that
are used to treat the same medical problems as weed).
Last month, former State Supreme Court Judge Gustin L. Reichbach penned an op-ed for the New York Times
detailing his battle with pancreatic cancer. Reichbach says he “did not
foresee that after having dedicated myself for 40 years to a life of
the law, including more than two decades as a New York State judge, my
quest for ameliorative and palliative care would lead me to marijuana.”
From Reichbach’s op-ed:
Nausea and pain are constant companions. One struggles to eat enough to
stave off the dramatic weight loss that is part of this disease. Eating,
one of the great pleasures of life, has now become a daily battle, with
each forkful a small victory. Every drug prescribed to treat one
problem leads to one or two more drugs to offset its side effects. Pain
medication leads to loss of appetite and constipation. Anti-nausea
medication raises glucose levels, a serious problem for me with my
pancreas so compromised. Sleep, which might bring respite from the
miseries of the day, becomes increasingly elusive.
Inhaled marijuana is the only medicine that gives me some relief from
nausea, stimulates my appetite, and makes it easier to fall asleep. The
oral synthetic substitute, Marinol, prescribed by my doctors, was
useless. Rather than watch the agony of my suffering, friends have
chosen, at some personal risk, to provide the substance. I find a few
puffs of marijuana before dinner gives me ammunition in the battle to
eat. A few more puffs at bedtime permits desperately needed sleep.
This is not a law-and-order issue; it is a medical and a human rights issue.
Cuomo, it seems, is more concerned with the (politically sexy) civil
rights of recreational pot smokers than he is with basic
“human rights” of everyone — which is a smart move for someone who
probably is planning a presidential run and doesn’t want to have to
deal with his opponents saying he “legalized” marijuana
(“decriminalized” tends to have a nicer ring to it on the national stage
— especially if it’s to prevent the disproportionate arrests of minorities).
Cuomo’s positions on marijuana are mind-boggling/contradictory — especially given the overwhelming public support for medical
marijuana in New York (anywhere from 60-percent to 80-percent of New
Yorkers support medical marijuana, depending on which poll you look at).
The governor claims there are “tremendous risks” to legalizing medical marijuana. We asked the governor’s office — yet again — to identify a single “risk” that would keep Cuomo from backing prescription weed. Cuomo’s office’s response: crickets.
Given the fact that Cuomo wants to further relegate marijuana possession offenses to the seriousness of a parking ticket — while still refusing to support medical marijuana for people like Reichbach — it seems the only “tremendous risks” of backing a medical marijuana bill are to Cuomo’s political future.