By Nicholas P. Amigone III
As a former prosecutor and as a practicing attorney in this community for 44 years, I must register my strong disagreement with the arguments and analysis set forth by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes in their flawed advocacy in support of the legalization of recreational marijuana.
First, despite his adamant position that he articulated as recently as two years ago, the governor has flip-flopped on the so called “gateway” issue. Marijuana is clearly a gateway drug. While not all pot smokers move on to cocaine, opiates and hallucinogens, it is well established that nearly all users of these more catastrophic substances started their entry into the world of drugs by smoking or ingesting marijuana.
Second, the governor and assemblywoman argue that marijuana arrests are disproportionate to society as a whole in the minority community. This is a skewed statistical argument. Police agencies, prosecutors and criminal defense attorneys will all agree that is extremely rare for a defendant to be arrested solely for marijuana possession.
Instead, most defendants charged with possession were first stopped and arrested for other crimes under the penal and/or vehicle and traffic laws. A person first charged with assault, public intoxication, disorderly conduct, driving while intoxicated, reckless driving and the like may be charged with pot possession incidental to their arrest for these other charges.
So if these other crimes are more prevalent in the minority community, and statistics say that they are, then marijuana possession charges incidental to the primary arrest will also be more prevalent in those areas. As such, legalizing recreational marijuana will not result in a decrease in arrests in the minority community because it is the rare pot possession charge that is not the consequence of an unrelated arrest for other charges.
Third, the proposed legislation flies in the face of well-established statutory law under the vehicle traffic and public health (Clean Indoor Air Act) laws. Our State Legislature has consistently and continually lowered the standard and raised the consequences for driving while intoxicated by alcohol or drugs.
Similarly, the Clean Air Act has made it nearly impossible to smoke anything in restaurants, hotels, offices, clubrooms and the like.
All of these statutory changes which the Legislature and governor have implemented for obvious public policy reasons are contravened by the contemplated marijuana legislation initiative. If passed, would this legislation not lead to greater incidents of intoxicated driving and air quality pollution for those inhaling the marijuana smoke? Where is the public policy consideration there?
Nicholas P. Amigone III is a Buffalo lawyer and former prosecutor.