Albany in the Weeds
People throw the term “nanny state” around a lot, especially in New York. People have used the term to describe everything from seat belt laws to motorcycle helmet laws to anti-smoking regulations.
But to just chalk it all up to the “state” just wanting to make life less fun or free is silly.
I think that, in most cases, lawmakers who pass these sorts of laws balance the equities and err on the side of the public good. You might not like to wear a seatbelt, but it might save your life. Same with a helmet. You can’t smoke indoors because it’s offensive and harmful to non-smokers.
But when it comes to medical marijuana, I don’t think that balance is taking place.
I don’t smoke marijuana, nor do I think it’s a great idea for people to do all the time, just like I don’t smoke cigarettes or think they’re a particularly healthy choice. I don’t ride motorcycles, either. But I do drink alcohol, and even that is unreasonably regulated – you can’t get a brunch mimosa before noon in New York?
But just because I don’t partake in a certain activity, or think it’s a good idea, doesn’t mean it should be banned altogether.
Other states have over a decade’s worth of experience not only with medical marijuana, but two western states have gone ahead and legalized pot altogether. Colorado is making a killing on pot sales taxes, and the only people getting hurt are the Mexican drug cartels, who have seen the cost of pot plummet. If Washington is too rainy and Colorado too snowy, pot is now legal in Portugal and Paraguay.
It’s one thing to regulate a harmful drug like cocaine or crystal meth – things that have to be carefully synthesized in a lab – and it’s another to regulate a plant that grows naturally, and is then dried and cured.
Furthermore, marijuana has distinct and real medicinal purposes. It reduces nausea and enhances appetite for people undergoing chemotherapy, and for anorexics. It reduces eye pressure in glaucoma patients. It can reduce pain, stress, anxiety, and seizures. It is also most effective and fast-acting when smoked.
But for some reason that I can’t adequately explain, Governor Cuomo is insisting that New York’s medical marijuana laws be restrictive to the point of pointlessness. 22 states and the District of Columbia have medical marijuana laws, but City & State explains,
New York’s comprehensive medical marijuana program will incorporate three unusual components: a sunset clause, a kill switch and a prohibition on smoking the drug.
All three were included at the insistence of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who demanded a smoking ban during negotiations and repeatedly emphasized the potential risks of legalizing marijuana for patients struggling with severe illnesses. The governor said that the compromise bill “strikes the right balance” between helping those in pain and preventing abuse.
“We also have a fail-safe in the bill, which gives me a great deal of comfort, which basically says the governor can suspend the program at any time on recommendation of either the State Police superintendent or the commissioner of health, if there is a risk to the public health and the public safety,” Cuomo said at a Capitol press conference to announce the agreement.
I mean, why not require a state Department of Health employee physically to administer the drug each time, while you’re at it?
New York’s program would cover nearly a dozen diseases—relatively few compared to some states—including cancer, HIV or AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy and Huntington’s disease. The drug could also be used to treat severe or chronic pain, severe nausea and severe or persistent muscle spasms.
State Senator Diane Savino, who pushed for a medical marijuana bill, is willing to compromise because something is better than nothing. (Here is a breakdown of each state’s program). She has a point, I suppose, but I agree with Ray Walter,
Republican Assemblyman Raymond Walter, who once opposed the bill and is now one of its co-sponsors, said the bill had taken on an ungainly shape with Cuomo’s involvement.
“There’s an old saying that a camel is a horse designed by committee. I think we have a little bit of a camel at this point,” Walter said. “Well, the governor thinks it’s a better horse,” Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, the bill’s sponsor, replied.
This is a cautious, overly restrictive bill that places New York about 20 years behind the curve – while an improvement over the status quo of being 40 years behind, some accuse the state of being run by communard progressive, and this bill is none of that.
Marijuana is no more harmful than alcohol – many argue that it’s much less harmful. Its ridiculous reputation as a “gateway drug” becomes somewhat less acute when legalized.
What the state has is a need for new sources of revenue, and cost savings. Full legalization, regulation, and taxation of marijuana sales to adults is the way to go, and I think it will happen in New York in the next decade. Just like the last century’s Volstead Act, the enforcement and prosecution of anti-marijuana laws is a massive waste of public money and resources, and simply empowers criminal gangs and cartels. According to an article in Forbes, Colorado will pull in $40 million in taxes from legal marijuana sales in 2014. That doesn’t factor in the savings from no longer having to enforce and prosecute marijuana prohibition laws. Instead, you might get a ticket for smoking in public.
You would think that a government like New York’s would find the taxes, fees, and licenses downright addictive.