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. 

12 comments

  • Christine Slocum

    It is really striking how backward this approach to marijuana is when you live in a place that is less restrictive and come back to New York. I moved to Buffalo from Washington State, which had legalized it as much as a state could. Washington did not go up in flames when it decriminalized pot on the state and local levels. New York won’t either. I have never had marijuana myself, but it does not seem to have the negative effects that Gov. Cuomo is afraid of.

    Marijuana was heavily criminalized to begin with as a result of racial prejudices – not anything inherent to the drug itself. As you write, it’s not worse than alcohol. It appears that prejudice is continuing to guide the regulatory process. This is too bad.

    • Cuomo’s friends in the distilled spirits lobby and god knows what other self serving knobs will withhold their donations if he doesn’t bang the drum against the evil weed. More Smoke and mirrors from this soulless piece of shit who gets up on his hind legs in faux moral outrage when all he really cares about it keeping his cash flowing. It’s never about anything real or moral with this scumbag it’s just different shades of political expediency.

  • Marijuana should be legal for recreational use. It would save many lives.
    Go out partying with your friends. The longer you party the more inebriated you get, causing dangerous driving and all sorts of mayhem.
    Pass around a couple of joints however and in no time everyone is yawning and heading home early.
    As a sleep aid it is effective.

  • chucknaughton57

    Marijuana is a police state’s favored gateway drug. A gateway into police intrusion into the lives of its citizens. A gateway to property forfeiture that fuels the militarization of the civil security forces. A gateway to prison for otherwise peaceful citizens. This new law is nothing more than a cynical attempt at the appearance of progressivity while not really accomplishing anything.

    • never heard it described as THAT gateway before but you are dead on the money

      • chucknaughton57

        It doesn’t necessarily follow that using pot will lead to hardcore drugs, but it is almost a truism that if one is using/selling hard drugs, weed is part of the picture was well. Cops know this. If weed is legal, then a lot of situational probable cause goes out the window. Personally, I don’t use pot, I haven’t since 1976. And while i don’t see it as much of a problem as alcohol, its probably not too healthy for one’s body to ingest concentrated smoke in to the lungs. My support for pot legalization is to arrest the onward march of the police state. In the 60’s, they taught us to fear/hate the Russians because of the specter of the prospective police surveillance state security apparatus being imposed. Orwell’s 1984 was widely accepted as a warning. Now….compared to what we have these days, even Richard Nixon has got soul

        • My own experience was the guy who sold pot also dealt in worse drugs which he’d try to substitute when the weed scene was dry. In a legal scenario this doesn’t happen. Nixon was the last real liberal.

  • It seems like Cuomo, with his presidential aspirations, is running the state as if he already has to answer to U.S. senate republicans. Can’t wait until this guy gets cruuuuushed in the democratic primary for president.

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