You’d think that a police force like the NYPD spending a million hours and making nearly half as many arrests would mean they were running down a big racket of some kind. An organized crime syndicate? No. Gang violence? No. Oh, I know! Anti-terrorism! Nope. For the past decade what have the NYPD spent a million man hours making 440,000 arrests for? Marijuana possession.
That is an insane amount of time for a police force like the NYPD to spend on anything, but for that much time and taxpayer-funded effort, shouldn’t it be for something that causes and actual threat to society? We’re not talking about crack addicts or meth abusers, we’re talking about pot. I know there are some wild and crazy rumors out there about what pot is, but one thing I can guarantee everyone reading — it’s not crack or meth or even coke. It’s pot. It’s a weed that grows naturally and has psychotropic side-effects but in all of recorded history there’s not a single case of anyone overdosing on it (you can’t actually, your brain just won’t allow it). I’ve written about it plenty, but the summation on pot is that it’s certainly not harmless, especially if you have preexisting mental health disorders, or if you have signs you could one day develop them, but it’s by far the least harmful of all the vices one could choose, at least in my never-to-be humble opinion.
Though I suppose if “eating healthy and exercising” is your vice, that’s pretty harmless too.
Let’s be honest, potheads pose no threat to society. None. It’s not a gateway drug — not for everyone. If someone is going to smoke PCP in their basement while watching re-runs of “The Care Bears,” they’re going to do it with or without having tried pot. There are people with predilections towards heavy drug use, and yes, for them pot can be an entryway to harder drug use. But the vast majority of regular cannabis users do so without any need for further narcotic ingestion. So when we see a study that shows a big police force like the NYPD spent so much time on pot possession — not even trafficking — you have to wonder why?
Disproportionate numbers of Latinos and African-Americans were among those 440,000 arrested over ten years as well. So now we have a look at a policy that has cost tons of money, tons of time, tons of energy, and has yielded eyebrow-raising inequity in the racial makeup of those busted. You know, every time I drive by a routine traffic stop and see three cop cars lined up behind the alleged law breaker I often shake my head and wonder which person is getting stabbed, knifed, raped or otherwise abused while up to six officers (two per car a lot of the time) stand around while one of them decides to write a ticket or do whatever it is they stopped the car in front of them to do. But just think of the amount of real, honest-to-God crime that could have been prevented if the NYPD hadn’t been spending quite so much time busting people for possessing a plant.
The study — done by The Drug Policy Alliance and the Marijuana Arrest Research Project — was done as New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo has said that reforming the state’s marijuana laws is a top priority for his state. Cuomo wants to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana in public view. It’d be a sharp contrast from the previous legislation, and comes on the heels of Washington and Colorado both passing measures that completely decriminalize pot smoking altogether — medicinally or recreationally. The tide of public opinion is shifting on pot. Much like gay marriage, the generation of people I belong to — millennials — have much more evolved views on pot.
You could say it’s because a lot of us have tried it and now understand all the “Just Say No” propaganda that was aimed at pot was just that — propaganda. But for whatever reason, millennials have a much more progressive take on the war on drugs in general, but especially as it pertains to pot. The bottom line for me is that we cannot continue to lie to ourselves about what marijuana is. We also cannot continue to prop-up our prison systems — many of which have gone to private, for-profit contractors — by allowing them to be filled with young minority men. It’s creating an imprisoned class, a group made of mostly people of color who are spending real, hard time in jail for walking around with a drug that’s also been known to help ease the pain of AIDS and cancer patient. No, not everyone who uses pot is a terminally-ill patient, but the point is that the demonization of weed is the only reason we don’t have looser laws already.
Those who worry about how you can go from a rather closed-off approach to marijuana to a completely free and easy one without mass societal calamity need only to look at Washington. They’ve hired a consultancy firm that many in the field consider to be the very best. And to their credit, the group is headed by a man who is by no means a doped-up hippie. In fact, Mark Kleiman — who founded the firm — was against California’s 2010 attempt to decriminalize weed, saying that drug dealers and users from all around the country would flood California looking for legal pot.
So why would Washington hire a guy who seems a bit of a square to head up their effort to create effective policies? Because they’re smart, that’s why. In choosing a group that isn’t just filled with white smoke and glass-eyed college kids, they’re sending a message to the Feds and to the people of their state. If Washington is going to treat pot like booze and allow adults 21-years or older to partake of state taxed weed, they need to show everyone involved that it isn’t a free-for-all drug fest going on in their state.
Proponents of pot law reform should actually be jumping up and down at the news of this hiring. It will give Washington’s effort to address the problem at the root legitimacy. It’s insane to think that in 2013 we’re still incarcerating so many non-violent offenders whose only real crime was enjoying a vice. Smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol have documented and repeated cases of terrible health consequences. Cancer just loves booze and cigarettes. And after a horrendously failed attempt to prohibit alcohol, we learned our lesson and started treating it as a vice — regulating and taxing — and things have improved since. We had thirty years or more of anti-drunk driving and anti-smoking campaigns that have gotten the risk factors well-ingrained into the zeitgeist. The same should be happening for a drug that heretofore has shown absolutely none of the same horrifying side-effects as alcohol and tobacco use.
Washington is leading the way to get us there, and the fact that they’ve hired a serious firm to tackle their policy creation means they’ll have more than one leg to stand on when the Feds inevitably challenge their law. If they can present to the Supreme Court — which is precisely where the case would wind up eventually — that they have implemented a system that deals with pot users just as, if not more effectively than how they deal with users of the other two legal vices in the state, then maybe, just maybe even the conservatively-slanted high court will have no choice but to tell the Legislative and Executive they can’t stop the states from decriminalizing a plant, thus ending one embarrassingly long chapter in American domestic policy.
There are of course no guarantees, but it’s the best shot that proponents of sensible vice laws have had victory in a long, long time.