News & Politics

Conservatives Should Celebrate New York's Marijuana Legalization, With One Caveat

(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

The recreational marijuana business is about to boom in New York State. On Wednesday, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law a bill legalizing the recreational sale of marijuana. Lawmakers insisted that tax revenue be funneled to minority communities who have disproportionately suffered under tough marijuana laws.

New York Times:

Forty percent of the tax revenue from pot sales will be steered to those communities, and people convicted of marijuana-related offenses that are no longer criminalized will have their records automatically expunged. The law also seeks to allow people with past convictions and those involved in the illicit cannabis market to participate in the new legal market.

Unlike many of my colleagues, I take a libertarian stance on marijuana. I think this is a good development for freedom in America for several reasons:

1. Classifying a plant that grows naturally on Earth as a controlled substance is moronic.

This has always bothered me. Marijuana is a plant. It grows in the wild. It has medicinal purposes and benefits. Alcohol, on the other hand, does not just appear, but must be distilled and manipulated in order to brew it properly. Alcohol causes many deaths and contributes to diseases but this country found out the hard way that prohibition does not work and personal liberty demands that individuals should be allowed to make their own choices, even if those choices harm them.

Enjoying marijuana responsibly, just like responsible alcohol consumption, is not only possible but millions of people all over the world already do it. Responsible people should not be punished because of the minority of abusers or alcoholics.

2. Black and Brown communities are disproportionately targeted for marijuana offenses and many lives have been destroyed by unnecessary incarcerations.

According to the New York Times, the population affected by harsh sentencing will be able to compete in the cannabis market.

Half of business licenses, for example, are supposed to be issued to “social equity applicants.” That includes people from communities with high rates of marijuana enforcement, as well as businesses owned by women and minorities, distressed farmers and disabled veterans. Priority will also be given to applicants who have a marijuana-related conviction, or a close relative with such a conviction.

I think this is a fair position to take. According to the ACLU, “despite roughly equal usage rates, Blacks are 3.73 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana.” And a majority of drug arrests involve marijuana possession, not even distribution. Fewer people incarcerated for non-violent crimes is a good thing. All conservatives who value liberty should agree with that.

The other thing that conservatives often overlook is the extreme hardship that anyone with a record has when trying to get a job in order to turn his or her life around after serving prison time. We say we are a society that believes in second chances, but if you’ve ever been convicted of a felony, good luck getting a job. I’ve seen in my own family how hard it is for a person with a criminal record to get back on his feet. This system only serves to keep people involved in criminal activity because it’s the only available option. It’s a cycle that needs breaking.

3. New York needs economic growth and farmers in fertile upstate NY will benefit

Considering New York’s insane taxes and the people fleeing the state in droves, our state needs new economic opportunities and if those opportunities also include farming, that’s a double bonus. New York is rich in farmland and the new industry will spur economic growth in farming communities that need it.

Republicans keep harping about people driving while high. This is easily addressed by laws to prevent it, but you don’t keep people locked up in jail for non-violent crimes because you’re too lazy to work on this issue. This is one of those issues that Republicans keep fighting when they shouldn’t. This legislation upholds the very true essence of American liberty.

Americans overwhelmingly support the legalization of marijuana and there’s no good reason to stand in the way of its inevitability. Instead, Republicans should be drafting their own legislation to make sure it conforms to the safety regulations they want. Don’t wait for Democrats to take over your legislatures to do this. Marijuana legalization is happening, whether Republicans want it or not, and they’re refusing to jump into an issue that would give them popularity and approval from most of America. Catch up!

4. One bad thing…

The only negative that I can see about this law is that it does not appear to address Child Protective Services’ authority to take children away from people who smoke marijuana. This is a very serious issue. Even in Colorado where pot has been legal for a while, parents who use it are still having their children removed from them because of marijuana use. This is obscene. When these laws are written, they should include provisions to prevent CPS/DFS from using marijuana as an excuse to investigate a family or remove children. Until lawmakers fix this, minority communities and the rest of us will suffer from this hole in the law. CPS/DFS is vicious to parents who use marijuana. It appears that they lean on federal law that still says marijuana is illegal to do this in states where pot is legal. Federal laws must change and change quickly because they are creating confusion and abuse of power in child welfare bureaucracies.

An article in High Times discusses the difficulties in dealing with child welfare agencies.

Kelley Bruce, co-founder of Cannamommy, found out firsthand that having a medical card doesn’t always protect a parent when CPS was called on her in 2012. Despite living in Colorado and being a medical patient, her outspoken efforts to educate the public about the benefits of cannabis began a difficult legal battle. She was without a support system at the time and had no idea about the first step. After a relentless search, she found representation and fought the charge of consuming a Schedule I illicit drug in front of minors.

Bruce says that during the investigation process with CPS, it’s difficult to have a voice, because you are at their mercy and basically begging them to believe you’re not putting your children in danger. She says that once CPS decides there is criminal activity, they report it to law enforcement.

Clearly, this cannot continue in states where recreational use is legal. It’s unjust. Lobbying groups should target New York legislators to add language to this bill protecting parents from unjust investigations based solely on marijuana use. Other than that, I think it’s a swell bill and a good day for liberty. I never thought I’d say that about the New York legislature.

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