New York State’s Cannabis Challenges
Legalize Recreational Marijuana? It’s Not So Simple.
As legislators in New York State continue to grapple with proposed legislation — making it the eleventh state to legalize recreational marijuana — a number of constituencies weigh the impact of such a widespread law. Most are finding the same answer.
With the legislative session set to close on June 19, a clear path to such a passage remains in doubt. Attempts to include language in advance of the April 1 budget referendum fell apart and municipalities have been proactive in an attempt to curtail any recreational business activity in their backyards. Additionally, there are federal laws to consider.
The passage of such a law in New York State would mean potential business opportunities — but with caveats. Those arrested for marijuana-related crimes in the past may view passage as life-altering and the same may be true for employees and employers. Medicinal dispensaries may find new avenues and challenges. Public perception, arguably shaped by the media, may begin to change over generations. Colleges and athletes may be forced to reconsider habits and policies.
And assemblymembers that once viewed marijuana as a legal obstacle or social ill may now view legislation as a potential revenue-generator in parts of the state that have experienced decades of decline.
All of this is explored through multimedia below. Over three months, students in Utica College’s Watchdog course dissected the issue from multiple perspectives, and found that a contentious piece of legislation will have winners — but potentially at a cost.
Suzy Wameling, a local medical marijuana patient in Utica, N.Y., lived most of her younger days worrying if she would ever become the person she knew she was capable of being.
Wameling, a 36-year-old mother, noticed her life would change the day she asked her doctor about medical marijuana in Oneida County. Wameling’s doctor explained to her all the different ways she could consume marijuana to help treat the chronic pain she deals with. Wameling left the doctor’s office a year ago, realizing the full potential she could reach from taking cannabidiol (CBD) capsules.
“I was on Hydrocodone for 10 years,” Wameling said. “I didn’t like taking it because I always felt drowsy.”
According to New York government data, from 2015-2018, 11,005 people in the state, ages 31-40 years, old became certified patients due to chronic pain — Wameling is one of them. Across all ages, a total of 71,547 patients in New York State use medicinal marijuana due to chronic pain.
In August 2018, Wameling started treatment with CBD capsules in replace of opioid pills. CBD is a non-psychoactive chemical, meaning it won’t get the user high. According to the addiction center, opioids are a classification of drug that is a synthetic version of opium — when taking a lower dose, opioids can cause a user to be sleepy.
Not only was Wameling’s chronic pain being relieved, her anxiety wasn’t as severe or common. The foggy days and restless nights were gone.
“My doctor wanted me on disability,” Wameling said. “That was the last thing I wanted. CBD pills have given me the chance to work again, play with my little boy and be a better mother.”
According to Wameling, It was tough for her to run around and go places with her little boy. With the constant drowsiness, Wameling knew working would be too much on her body. After she started taking CBD capsules, she started sleeping better and feeling 100 percent throughout the day.
Taking CBD pills also gives Wameling the opportunity to work at the Remedy Mohawk-Valley Dispensary in New Hartford, N.Y.
The Dispensary and Relief
The Remedy Dispensary is the first of its kind in Oneida County. According to one of its pharmacists, Jessica Decarlo, the company orders its products from other manufacturers in New York State.
Being the only medical marijuana shop in Oneida County, the Remedy Dispensary hopes to capture more patients every day. The location of where to open the store was decided by the company’s goal — to attract a lot of people in a large population, according to Decarlo. The company’s logic was that more people would be willing to become a patient at its dispensary because of its proximity. The closest dispensary outside of Oneida County is in Syracuse.
Remedy works closely with doctors from hospitals to assure patients receive the treatment that best suits their health issues since marijuana has different effects on people. According to Decarlo, doctors will certify patients to the dispensary and ask about products for patients. Decarlo sends information out to the doctors that explain all the products they have to offer for the patients.
“As the pharmacist here at Remedy I look at the patients’ health history,” said Decarlo, 32. “A doctor can state whether they want a specific product. If the doctor isn’t specific, then I will give recommendations to the patient.”
Patients have a choice between tinctures, capsules and cartridges for vaping made with cannabis oil with a range of ratios between tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and CBD. The higher ratio of CBD, the more pain relief you receive without actually getting high.
Declarlo’s favorite part about working with her patients at Remedy is seeing the progress.
“We’ve had so many first-time users who have come back and said how it’s (the treatment) working and changing their lives,” Decarlo said. “It makes my day hearing a patient say that.”
Patient Health Problems
Health problems of residents across the state have led patients to seek help through medicinal marijuana. According to studies conducted by the New York State Department of Health, chronic pain and severe nausea are two common health problems seen in patients.
According to the Department of Health, from 2015-2018, 5,293 residents became certified patients because of severe nausea. The data also found that in that same period, there were a total of 98,101 residents who became certified patients due to sickness — 73 percent of the 98,101 patients reported that chronic pain was the reason.
According to Jim Riesenberger, a 56-year-old senior respiratory doctor at Rochester General Hospital, medicinal marijuana can help patients with symptoms of chemotherapy — nausea and loss of appetite.
“Medicinal and recreational marijuana can help relieve pain in so many ways,” Riesenberger said. “I do know that the effects of marijuana can extremely help with appetite if the patient has nausea.”
In Store for the Future?
Medicinal marijuana has its benefits in terms of patient treatment, as Wameling explained how CBD is allowing her to stay off disability.
There can be cons to marijuana when abused, as Gary Goethels believes.
Goethels, a 60-year-old senior respiratory doctor at Rochester General Hospital (RGH), says doctors and patients must consider the risks and benefits of marijuana and opioids.
“Marijuana is less addictive than opioids,” he said. “But it is well documented to cause brain damage and possibly genetic alteration when abused.”
Wameling had been taking a form of an opioid, hydrocodone, for a decade. Wameling said she was always in pain and felt drowsy when taking hydrocodone. CBD capsules help Wameling live the life she wants.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2017, there were 70,237 people who died from a drug overdose in the United States. The rate of drug overdose deaths involving opioids increased by 71 percent per year from 2013 through 2017, according to the CDC.
Ryan Janes, a doctor at RGH, can see medicinal marijuana being used as an alternative to opioids.
“In certain cases, I truly believe it should be considered,” Janes said. “The opiate epidemic in our country causes many problems. I do believe marijuana is less addictive than traditional pain medication.”
It was less than a year ago that Wameling would attempt to go out and do her son’s favorite activities, like hiking through trails, despite her poor health. Hydrocodone didn’t allow her to be mentally and physically prepared for such activities that take constant moving around. CBD allows Wameling to live a life of happiness every day with her son.
“CBD capsules have turned my life around, Wameling said. “I’m able to do everything with my boy and feel perfectly fine. I feel like a normal person again.”
In 2010, there were arrests made every 37 seconds for marijuana in the United States, according to an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) report. While each state has its own way of addressing marijuana possession arrests, a report released in 2013 by the ACLU also shows that African Americans are 3.73 times more likely to be arrested compared to their counterparts.
The trends continue across the state and New York City. In the first three months of 2019, according to New York Police Department data, 92 percent of people locked up for marijuana possession in the first three months of this year were African American or Hispanic.
Incarceration Rates and Arrests
There are more than 2.3 million people currently in the U.S. prison system in various facilities, according to the Prison Policy Initiative, a criminal justice think tank based in Easthampton, Massachusetts. This includes 1,719 state prisons, 109 federal prisons, 1,772 juvenile correctional facilities and 3,163 local jails.
In 2018, New York State accounted for 443 inmates in correctional facilities per 100,000 people in the state, according to the Prison Policy Initiative. While this may seem like a high number to some, most of the people being held are not serving long-term sentences, according to Utica College professor William Virkler, who also serves as the town justice of New Hartford and chairman of Oneida County Probation Alternatives to Incarceration Board.
Although there is are multiple people in jail, not many of them are actually serving time.
“Only a small percentage of people in jail are serving a sentence. It’s like a motel, there are people there waiting to go on trial, people on trial and people who have been arrested for something but couldn’t make bail,” Virkler said.
Out of the 2.3 million people currently in jail, 198,000 are currently serving time for a drug offense, and 45,000 for drug possession.
The Prison Policy Initiative also has found that in terms of marijuana possession, of the 2.3 million people currently incarcerated, 198,000 are serving time for a drug offense and 45,000 for drug possession.
In 2016, the number of arrests made for marijuana possession was 653,249, but by 2017, that number had increased by 6,451. While the increase in arrests may be shocking for many, four geographical regions of the United States account for the highest arrest rates in terms of marijuana possession.
According to the 2017 FBI crime report, 44.3 percent of the drug arrests in the Northeast were for marijuana possession. In the Midwest, 48.1 percent, the South 44.9 percent and the West, 13.6 percent. The ACLU continues to dig deeper into this data since its 2010 report found New York State and Texas accounted for 97 percent of arrests made for marijuana possessions.
The report concluded that overall, African Americans are more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession compared to their white counterparts. In New York 1,192 African Americans were arrested per 100,000 residents for marijuana possession.
In an interview with Dr. Clemmie Harris, an assistant professor of history at Utica College, he expressed that although white Americans smoke marijuana just as much as their African American counterparts, they are not held at the same standard African Americans are in terms of the law.
“Consumption of marijuana in black communities is seen inherently criminal, and in white communities is it seen as youthful rebellion,” Harris said. “There are two different conceptualizations that lead to two different applications of the law, two different realities of two different groups within the context of the legal system that is supposed to be blind, to what you look like and where you come from.”
Money and Marijuana Arrests
According to a 2013 report released by ACLU, states spent over $3.6 billion enforcing marijuana possession laws in 2010. To place this number in perspective, New York State spent more than $3.6 billion on prisons in 2015, with $69,355 being the amount spent on each inmate.
Annually more than $47 billion is spent on drug-related programs in the United States. While billions of dollars continue to be spent on regulating drug laws, few changes have yet to be made on addressing the cause of these issues.
Although money is spent on the prison system and laws surrounding marijuana, revenue is also made through bail. Robert Swenszkowski, a Utica College criminal justice professor of practice, expressed the legal ramification that can transpire when an individual is arrested for marijuana possession.
“If they were arrested, the threes options are they can be set on their own recognises, it’s basically telling them to come back to court, bail can be set to get out someone has to come up,” Swenzowski said. “Bail is put on a person because we feel like they are not going to come back.”
Future of Marijuana Legalization
As legalization of recreational marijuana continues to be debated in Albany, Onondaga District Attorney William Fitzpatrick plans to expunge the record of those who have been convicted in the past 20 years.
Although any law has yet to be finalized, Fitzpatrick is wasting no time in preparing for potential legal changes and challenges.
In an interview with Fitzpatrick, he stated that although he is not in favor of recreational marijuana becoming legalized, he thinks people who have been convicted for marijuana possession deserves a second chance.
In a nutshell, it’s a matter of justice. It can be problematic and difficult for anyone to get a job, join the military or get public housing when they have been convicted of marijuana,” Fitzpatrick said. “We don’t convict many people, instead we educate them about the effects of the drug, and give them six months to not use the drug. Their record is then automatically expunged.”
Chantelle Boateng is a senior at Utica College. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Although New York State has proposed legislation that would legalize recreational use of marijuana, colleges and college athletes within the state will still have to abide by NCAA rules and regulations which states that marijuana is a banned illicit drug.
In June 2018, the NCAA released a study on substance use habits of college student-athletes based off of data collected in 2017 and has conducted this study every four years since 1985. In the most recent study, the NCAA reported that 60 percent of member schools participated in the study with a total of 23,028 athletes.
However, athletes are not broken down by state in the study. Therefore, it is unclear which percentage of student-athletes included in the study are from New York State.
The study concluded that in the last year, marijuana was the second most commonly used substance among college athletes with 24.7 percent claiming they had used marijuana in some way during the past year (alcohol was first with 77.1 percent of college athletes reporting they had used it over the past year).
According to Erick Hart, the director of athletics at The College at Brockport, colleges within New York will still have to abide by the NCAA rules and restrictions on marijuana regardless of if proposed state legislation making recreational marijuana legal is passed or not.
Hart also said that schools would still follow NCAA rules and, with his understanding of the Drug Free School Act, even if marijuana was legal in New York, it would still be illegal at schools within the state.
Reason For Use
Derek Hamilton, a former swimmer at Utica College, used cannabinoids to treat shoulder pain and found it was the only treatment that worked for him. As a result, he faced a decision to stop using cannabis to treat his injury so that he could continue swimming, or to keep using cannabis because it was the only treatment that worked for him.
Of the 24.7 percent of athletes claiming to have used marijuana in the past year, 77 percent used marijuana for social reasons while 19 percent did so for pain management.
Although marijuana use is not just smoking or recreational, any type of use is banned by the NCAA, even for the 19 percent like Hamilton who use it for medicinal purposes.
“It was either go through physical therapy and swim through it and not be able to take any medicine that would help me which would mean I’d be in pain all season,” Hamilton said. “I found cannabinoids, specifically CBD, and it’s banned by the NCAA. I found that while working in construction during the summer it helped me with my pain, asomnia, anxiety...it’s a powerful tool.”
However, it wasn’t the NCAA that forced Hamilton away from the sport he had participated in for four years. It was Hamilton who turned away from the sport he loved because the pain was not worth it.
“I talked to my coach about it and how other athletes have been turned down from playing because of CBD,” Hamilton said. “We talked about it and it was the only medicine that helped me and my coaches and I agreed to see me in good health than in constant pain.”
New York state already has a medical marijuana program for the public which issues guidance to health insurers regarding coverage for office visits related to medical marijuana. However, student-athletes are not given the same option as the general public when seeking to use marijuana medicinally as the NCAA doesn’t allow any form of use.
So when it comes to athletes who use marijuana for medicinal purposes, some are faced with punishment or the decision to walk away from their sport, such as Hamilton.
“With medical documentation, I don’t believe they should be penalized,” Hart said.
By Division Level
According to the NCAA study, Division III athletes are the highest reported users of marijuana for the third consecutive study (2009 and 2013).
In all, 32.6 percent of Division III athletes reported to have used marijuana at some time during the previous year while 21.6 percent of Division II athletes reported yes, as did 17.7 percent of Division I athletes. New York is home to 66 NCAA Division III schools but it is unknown which percentage of Division III athletes reporting ‘yes’ comes from New York.
For Division III athletes, testing is typically only conducted if a team qualifies for a NCAA championship game or series and is conducted on a random basis, according to Dave Fontaine, the director of athletics at Utica College. This means a random drug test may be given to any player on any given team while also meaning that sometimes a team won’t have any players get tested at all.
“I believe when we went to the Frozen Four, I don’t know if our team was tested,” Fontaine said. “It’s not even a definite, it’s a possibility and random.”
Fontaine also noted that in his tenure as athletic director at Utica College, he has never had to discipline an athletes for using marijuana. However, during his time at The College at Brockport, Hart has been faced with disciplining some athletes for marijuana use.
Hart said that from 2012-2016, The College at Brockport partnered with an off-campus group in the area to conducted random drug testing.
“Over this time, we did not have anyone fail,“ Hart said. “We stopped testing because of the expense. A few times during my career, we have had students get caught smoking marijuana and they went through the campus judicial process. They were suspended one to two games, depending on the sport.”
Regardless of division level, student-athletes in New York will still be unable to use marijuana medically or recreationally if state legislation is passed, according to Chris Warner, the head athletic trainer at Utica College.
“Marijuana falls on the NCAA list of banned substances, so even if the use of marijuana is legalized in New York state, student athletes would be in violation of NCAA bylaws and could face discipline if found to be using it,” Warner said.
Data By Sport
The 2018 NCAA study reported that men’s and women’s lacrosse players from all division levels were the highest reported users of marijuana (50 percent men’s, 34 percent women’s) from each sport and both across both genders.
With Native American culture tied to lacrosse, Utica College women’s lacrosse coach Kristin St. Hilaire believes that a reason lacrosse players may be reporting so high could be because where the sport originated.
“I think there is certainly a part of the culture, I think you can see that in recent statistics and going back as well,” St. Hilaire said. “It is for whatever reason a part of the lacrosse culture ... it’s just kind of always been the way it is.”
St. Hilaire also mentioned she has had to deal with some athletes in the past who were caught using marijuana but did not specify the discipline faced.
“There have been instances we have had to take care of in-house and some that the school has gotten involved in because players have done things in residence halls that’s the conduct system here caught wind of,” St. Hilaire said. “I talk to the girls about making smart decisions all the time and not putting themselves in jeopardy.”
Coaching at the Division III level, St. Hilaire understands that drug testing is not conducted as often as it is in other division levels. Also, as a former Division I lacrosse player at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, St. Hilaire has undergone drug testing herself.
“We were all aware of the testing and the consequences that came with that so we were really smart about making good decisions,” St. Hilaire said. “We just didn’t have a lot of time in season (to use marijuana) and when we weren’t playing we just wanted to rest. I’m not going to pretend it wasn’t happening, but we always knew we were at risk and knew we had to be careful.”
Swimming was the second highest reported sport among men with 35 percent reporting to have used marijuana in the past year.
As for women’s athletics, ice and field hockey both reported 29 percent to having used marijuana in the past year, just five percent less than how women’s lacrosse was reported.
The Future and the NCAA
Although the methodology won’t change the next time the NCAA conducts its research, they will still make adjustments to the survey instrument to take into account relevant drugs and trends that are emerging, according to Markie Cook, the Assistant Director of Research at the NCAA.
Cook noted that for the last iteration of the survey, the NCAA did consider the increasing number of states legalizing marijuana and asked student-athletes what the marijuana laws were in their college’s state in order to get a rough idea of the landscape.
However, with Institutional Review Board limitations, it’s a bit difficult to get more specific than that from a geographic standpoint, according to Cook.
Also, new to the last iteration of the survey was the question, “How often have you used or do you currently use marijuana by the following methods?” as the NCAA speculated that with increased legalization, other methods (such as edibles) might become more popular since they are more readily available.
According to Cook, the NCAA also found that most student-athletes that are ingesting marijuana are also smoking it.
While more states start to legalize marijuana, Cook believes there’s a chance that the number of student-athletes using marijuana in legal states will increase. In fact, in the latest report 38.7 percent of users reported marijuana was legal in their state for recreational and/or medical purposes while 26.1 percent reported that marijuana was illegal in their state. There were also another 14.2 percent that reported they did not know if marijuana was legal in their state or not.
“It’s certainly a possibility, and hopefully with some of those newer questions we are asking the our latest data will serve as a baseline to compare with future data,” Cook said. “I’ve read some conflicting research about whether there is an increase of use in states where it’s legal and the amount of use.”
The year is 2005. Summer is quickly approaching, and school is coming to an end. For 15-year-old Noel Cespedes, life is all about rap music, comic books and girls. The older kids are all hanging out down the block from Urban Assembly School for Wildlife Conservation in the Bronx. Noel’s curiosity is at an all-time high after attending the mandatory school anti-marijuana presentation.
Keywords — gateway drug, and peer pressure — ring in his head throughout the rest of the day.
Beginning in the 1930s, marijuana has been followed by a long history of negative stigma pertaining to the drug and its users. Propaganda was centered around the negative health effects of marijuana. Due to the psychoactive properties of the drug the notion of deviance often followed the use of marijuana as users were perceived as thieves, murderers, and rapist. In 1937, the Marijuana Tax Act was passed — criminalizing and prohibiting the use marijuana — building the first instance of negative stigma around the drug.
Today, due to the Controlled Substance Act, marijuana remains a Schedule 1 narcotic, next to heroin and LSD. The classification of marijuana alongside highly potent narcotics further pushes the negative stigma associated with marijuana use created long ago in the 1930s.
According to Kaloyan Ivanov, author of High Times: The Evolution of the Stigma of Marijuana, although with the advancements in scientific research of marijuana, proving its many benefits, the negative stigmatization and impact on its users has been greatly exaggerated by modern society.
After the final bell dismisses the school, Noel notices a group of older kids huddled up in a circle and decides to join. To no surprise, Noel unknowingly joined a marijuana cypher. Learning how to inhale, Noel makes his way home where he runs into his older sister Wendy.
From one quick glance, Wendy notices her weary-eyed brother and quickly reprimands him, giving him the subtle reminder of the company they have at home — their visiting grandparents from the Dominican Republic. A concerned older sister in Wendy, enters the parent filled household with a new-found joyous Noel.
While in the living room filled with family, Noel recalls the words he heard earlier during the anti-marijuana seminar — gateway drug and peer pressure.
Questions begin to fill his cloudy mind — “Nobody pressured me into making this choice, why is this such a bad thing to do? What’s so wrong with smoking, if this is how it makes me feel? Should I believe the older generations when they tell me to stay away from something ‘bad’? What do I believe?”
Shift in Societal Norms?
Throughout the years, a drastic shift in the societal perception of marijuana has occurred. The views of full legalization of marijuana varies throughout each generation. According to the Pew Research Center, about six-in-ten Americans say the use of marijuana should be legalized, a 30 percent increase from 2000.
The generational differences in the views of the growing marijuana legalization debate highlights the different perceptions of the drug throughout the nation.
The Pew Research Center reports that more than half of Millennials, Gen Xers and Baby Boomers all believe in the legalization of marijuana, with the Silent Generation — those born in 1928 through 1945 — continuing to be the least supportive of legalization.
With the growth of public support for legal marijuana coming from the number of states legalizing the drug for recreational and health purposes, the negative stigma once built up against the drug is slowly being torn apart by the younger generation.
According to Vox poll conducted by writer German Lopez, the overwhelming majority of Americans are opposed to current federal marijuana law.
Only 16 percent of Americans favored keeping the current marijuana policy. About 29 percent favored strictly medical legalization, 5 percent backed decriminalization, and 49 percent favored the idea of full legalization.
The Vox poll resulted in a significant majority of voters opposing the current federal marijuana law — 83 percent of Americans — showcasing how behind federal lawmakers are in regard to the current state of marijuana.
According to Ivanov, the media has attributed to strengthening the stigma of marijuana. Likewise, Ivanov notes that the media also plays a strong role in creating and regulating the societal norms around marijuana.
Through the years. television often paints marijuana users as lazy, emotionless, and detrimental members of society. What is typically popular in the United States reaches across the seas to other nations, where they, too, accept the negative perception of marijuana users created by the media.
Looking back decades ago, users and distributors of marijuana were perceived as dangerous, and were heavily scrutinized by mass media, while alcohol is seen as an enhancement for social interaction.
“Why is marijuana considered a crime, while tobacco and alcohol have far more detrimental effects?” said Dr. Ugur Orak, a Utica College assistant professor of sociology. “Similar to the prohibition era, when the social norms are too dominant about the criminalization of a behavior, it is also reflected in the media. As the public perception of marijuana changes, the media perception will soon follow.”
Generational Perception and Family
Fast forward to the year 2013. Now a veteran marijuana user, Noel has experienced his fair share of trips, leading him to better understand the drug.
“Smoking since I was 15 years old has really broaden my perception of the drug and its users,” Noel said. “Being high around people who told me not to smoke, put everything into perspective and made me question the older generations. Are you telling me not to smoke because of the societal mold or it is because of your personal experience? Usually it is never the latter.”
Wendy, on the other hand, believes that the risk of marijuana use is not worth the reward, alluding to two past experiences with her little brother Noel and her own personal use.
“Marijuana use has never caught my attention, but I remember how harsh I was on Noel when I first caught him smoking,” Wendy said. “I thought that it was a gateway to other drugs and behavior, and being a nurse, I have my doubts but as the years went on, I was shown otherwise.”
Noel and Wendy are attending a family event. As the cousins sneak off to participate in a marijuana function, the older generation of parents are oblivious to the fact that marijuana is very prevalent in today’s society, even among their very own family.
Smoking for about eight years, Noel has yet to have a bad experience, leading him to confidently smoke among most groups. Grouped with a cousin, family friend, and Wendy who came along for the ride, Noel inhaled as he would regularly do. A feeling that he has never associated with marijuana overwhelmed his body, and Noel instantly felt as if he was to collapse into his sister’s arms.
“Noel looked like a ghost,” Wendy remembered. “He bent over on one knee and from that moment I knew his weed was laced.”
Noel knew his weed was laced.
“Marijuana never made me feel like that,” he said. “But realistically speaking that is the result of smoking. You buy off the streets, you never know what you actually get.”
Noel was born into a society that accepted marijuana culture unlike the previous generation who was taught to fear weed, rather than accept its culture.
Although the risk that comes with smoking marijuana, Noel still sees the older generation’s negative perception of the drug as more of a societal stigma.
“Our parents don’t get it, and it’ll be hard for them to understand,” Noel said. “They look down on the drug without any real knowledge. Being high around people who are against weeds makes me question their character and also their beliefs. Are you molded by experience or the societal norms?”
Mark Martinez is a junior at Utica College. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
After states surrounding New York, like Massachusetts and Vermont, started to legalize medical and recreational marijuana, state assemblymembers and senators had to decide if their own state would follow. One problem they faced was figuring out how people who needed medical marijuana would get it instead of having to get it from somebody on the street corners, according to an assemblyman from upstate New York.
Even after New York legislation found the solution to helping those who needed medical marijuana, senators and assemblymembers had to decide if they should follow the surrounding states and also legalize recreational marijuana.
An assessment of states that have legalized both medicinal and recreational through legislation have seen mixed results.
Here’s an overview.
Decriminalization, or relaxation of criminal penalties, first occurred in relation to marijuana in 1973 by Oregon. Oregon would fine $100 if a person was in possession of up to an ounce of marijuana.
Even though Oregon decriminalized marijuana in 1973, it took 15 years for the state to legalize medical marijuana with the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act and another 16 years for the state to legalize recreational marijuana. Other states that have legalized both medical and recreational marijuana include Colorado, Washington, Alaska, District of Columbia, California, Massachusetts, Nevada, Vermont, Michigan and Maine.
California was the first state to legalize medical marijuana in 1996. That was followed by Washington, Alaska and Oregon in 1998 and then Maine in 1999. Colorado and Nevada legalized medical marijuana in 2000, Vermont in 2004, Michigan in 2008, District of Columbia in 2010 and Massachusetts in 2012. Of those 10 states and District of Columbia, all but two took more than a decade to legalize recreational marijuana.
Colorado was the first state to legalize recreational marijuana with the passing of Amendment 64 in 2012. Washington had recreational marijuana legalized in the same year with voters approving Initiative 502. Alaska, District of Columbia and Oregon all legalized recreational marijuana in 2014.
California, Massachusetts and Nevada legalized in 2016, with medical marijuana having just been legalized in Massachusetts four years before. California had legalized medical marijuana 20 years beforehand. Maine legalized recreational marijuana in 2017, Vermont in 2018 and Michigan in 2019.
Marijuana in New York
Medical marijuana was legalized in New York in 2014. The bill, A6357E or S7923, went through the assembly three times before it was signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo. The first time the bill went through the assembly on June 3, 2013, the final vote had 99 ‘yes’ votes and 41 ‘no’ votes. For this vote, 93 of the ‘yes’ votes came from Democrats with the remaining six coming from Republicans.
For nearly a full year, the bill was not voted again in the assembly. On May 27, 2014, the bill was voted on again. This time, the ‘yes’ votes were at 94 and the ‘no’ votes were at 36. 32 of the ‘no’ votes came from Republicans.
One assembly member that switched his vote from no to yes from May to June was Assemblyman Clifford Crouch, (R-District 122), whose district borders the Pennsylvania in the Southern Tier.
“Prior to the second vote, no chain of command had been established to produce the medical marijuana,” Assemblyman Crouch explained.
Assemblyman Crouch also explained that along with a lack of chain of command for production of medical marijuana, there would be no quality control.
“They could have gone down to the street corner to get the medical marijuana,” he said.
He also said that the prior legislation that he had voted no on would have allowed a doctor to prescribe it for a patient but that the patient would not be able to find anywhere to get the prescription.
Assemblyman Crouch also explained that his district, which is made up of Norwich, Sidney and Walton, is relatively conservative.
“Between the votes, I explained the quality control that would be changed for the third vote and about the chain of possession. I didn’t face too much push back,” Assemblyman Crouch said.
Another assemblymember that switched his vote from the second vote to the third vote was Assemblyman Joseph Giglio (R-District 148).
The district director for Assemblyman Giglio’s office, Heidi Harley, explained that one of the reasons that he switched his vote was because the bill was modified between the votes. Harley said that after Assemblyman Giglio voted ‘no’ on the initial count, more safeguards were added to the legislation.
New York was considering legalizing recreational marijuana, with Gov. Cuomo reversing his stance that using marijuana would be a gateway drug to other drugs. However, when the final state budget was agreed upon in late March, recreational marijuana was no longer on there.
According to Assemblyman Brian D. Miller (R,I,C,Ref-District 101), recreational marijuana was removed from the budget because it was not budgetary item but more of a policy item.
The Push From Advocacy
Before recreational marijuana was removed from the budget, Albany Law School held a panel discussion in February. The moderator for that panel discussion was Richard Rifkin, a member of the New York City Bar Association and New York State Bar Association. Speakers at the panel included Sara E. Payne who is counsel at Barclay Damon, LLP, Syracuse, NY, David Soares, who is the District Attorney for Albany county and Professor Julie E. Steiner, a professor who teaches cannabis law and policy at Western New England School of Law.
Rifkin explained that prior to the panel discussion, he wasn’t actually that well versed in the law when it came to marijuana. Rifkin added that one reason he thought that New York had a sudden rush for legislation for recreational marijuana was related to other states.
“States like Vermont and Massachusetts had legalized recreational marijuana, so at least some neighboring states,” Rifkin said.
Rifkin said that one reason that was discussed as to why New York was trying to push for legalizing recreational marijuana so soon after legalizing medical marijuana was that the state was starting to realize that New Yorkers were going to go to other states to spend the money in order to get the marijuana and New York wouldn’t be collecting any of the taxes.
One person that was involved in getting recreational marijuana legalized in Michigan was Josh Hovey, spokesman for the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol and the senior vice president of Truscott Rossman, a public relations office based out of Michigan. Hovey was also the spokesman for the “Vote Yes on 1” campaign, being Proposition 1 that was being voted on to legalize recreational marijuana.
Hovey also said that one reason that he decided to get involved with trying to legalize recreational marijuana in Michigan was because it was a social justice issue.
“When you look at the prohibition of marijuana, it has primarily harmed people of color and people who are from disadvantaged communities,” he said. “In terms of the jobs, the tax revenue and things like that, those all made for really compelling reasons.”
Someone who is involved with representing businesses and cannabis professionals is Morgan Fox, who works as the media relations director at the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA). Fox has been involved in cannabis policy reform since and communications since 2009. Fox also served as the director of communications at the Marijuana Project Policy (MPP).
“Anybody can lobby their lawmakers in Congress. We have a dedicated spot in DC where our government relations team will reach out to lawmakers to try and get their support for established bills.
Fox explained that the government relations team will work directly with the lawmakers to introduce bills that would be positive cannabis policy reform.
“The bills are ranging from narrowly tailored things like cannabis industry access to banking or eliminating federal taxation codes that treat the cannabis industry unfairly to much larger, more comprehensive efforts,” Fox said.
These more comprehensive efforts include the Marijuana Justice Act or the The States Act. This bill would end marijuana prohibition and let states determine their own policy without fear of federal interference.
The Marijuana Justice Act would also work to expunge all federal marijuana convictions and provide for a community reinvestment in areas that have been most heavily hit by the war on drugs.
“It also includes a provision that would punish states that continue to enforce marijuana prohibition in a racially disparate manner by withholding funds from them,” Fox explained, “we’ve been working at this for many years now and we’ve been pretty successful in getting a lot of support for various reform legislation in Congress.”
Jacqui White is a senior at Utica College. She can be reached at email@example.com.