By Walter Simpson
The October 1969 cover of Life magazine shows someone smoking marijuana, asking “Should Marijuana be Legalized?” Decades later, we still haven’t gotten it right. The drug war – including marijuana prohibition – has been a costly failure.
Norm Stamper, Seattle’s police chief from 1994 to 2000 and an officer for 34 years, explains it well. “Over the past 40 years, we’ve spent a trillion dollars prosecuting the drug war. We’ve jailed tens of millions of Americans for non-violent offenses, ruined countless young lives, turned neighborhoods into armed battle grounds, done major damage to the Bill of Rights, destabilized the political and economic policies of foreign countries, and tacitly granted commercial and regulatory monopolies to traffickers from Afghanistan to Jamaica, L.A. to New York.”
Described as the new Jim Crow, drug laws have been enforced in a racially biased manner – exemplified by “stop and frisk” policing in New York City. Open Buffalo’s “Alarming Disparities” report documented discriminatory drug enforcement locally. And the American Civil Liberties Union found that in 2010 there were more than 100,000 marijuana arrests in New York and African-Americans were 4.5 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites.
Thankfully, there are many positive signs. Colorado and Washington have legalized marijuana – regulating and taxing it like alcohol and cigarettes. Democrat-leaning Oregon and Republican-leaning Alaska are next in line. Meanwhile, many other states have initiatives that would further decriminalize marijuana and add to the 20 states humanely allowing medical marijuana.
A February Quinnipiac poll reveals that nearly 90 percent of New Yorkers support medical marijuana and 57 percent – including 83 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds – favor legalizing small amounts of marijuana for personal use.
There’s overwhelming support for fixing New York’s broken marijuana laws. Medical marijuana should be enacted immediately. State Sen. Liz Krueger and Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes of Buffalo have sponsored the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act that would allow adults to possess up to six marijuana plants and two ounces of marijuana.
We must also undo damage done by existing laws. Non-violent marijuana offenders should be pardoned. Marijuana arrest and conviction records should be expunged.
Legalizing, regulating and taxing marijuana is the right thing to do. One smart, compassionate and courageous local legislator has it right. What about the rest?
Walter Simpson (www.whylegalizemarijuana.com) is a member of the Western New York Peace Center’s Criminal Justice Task Force, which supports the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act.