N.Y. Legalizes Marijuana, But Is It Enough?

As of March 31st, 2021 New York has joined a short list of fifteen states and Washington D.C. where marijunana is legal for recreational use. This bill is a legal provision that the state legislature has attempted to pass multiple times, but failed due to disagreements on the use of  tax revenue.  

New York legislatures have elected to use the revenue generated from marijuana sales to reinvest in minority communities that have been disenfranchised by generations of over-policing and the war on drugs. The legalization of weed is predicted to generate over $4.2 billion in revenue and if lawmakers follow through with their promises those profits will go towards vulnerable communities. 

Assemblywoman Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes has been an advocate for the legalization of recreational marijuana in New York for years, her hope being that “A percentage of revenue that is raised will get invested into the communities where the people who suffered mass incarceration come from and still live in many cases. For me this is a lot more than about raising revenue: It’s about investing in the lives of the people that have been damaged.” New York’s commitment to using the revenue from the legalization of marijuana to support marginalized communities is a step in the right direction in reversing the harm that has been done to people of color for generations. 

Black and Brown individuals have been over-policed for drug use for years, as the United States prison and police system profit off their incarceration. Combined Black and Latino New Yorkers made up 94% of marijuana related arrests in 2020 alone, even though white New Yorkers use marijuana at a much higher rate. This trend isn’t unique to New York, it is a national norm. 

Abolish the prison protest Photo by Maria Oswalt from Unsplash

The War on Drugs 

In an alleged effort to lower drug rates across the nation the United States launched the war on drugs. This policy was aimed to target drug use in minority communities, passing legislation that disproportionately incriminated Black and Brown Americans for their drug use, but ignored drug use in the white community. The true goal of these policies was not to decrease drug use nationwide, but rather to profit off of the imprisonment of people of color.  Since its conception in the 1970s the War on Drugs has proven entirely inefficient in decreasing drug use, but efficient in increasing incarceration rates--the prison population has increased 700% in just forty years

Statistically, Black and Brown Americans are being persecuted for minor drug convictions at much higher rates in comparison to their white counterparts. Black Americans comprise 13% of the United States population and 13% of drug users, but 44% of all those incarcerated for drug related offences. In addition to this, Black Americans are receiving much harsher sentences than their white counterparts. People of color account for 70% of those who received the mandatory minimum sentences for drug chargers. 

Making marijuana legal for everyone

As more states are moving forward with the legalization of marijuana, they must also move forward in decriminalizing marijuana by releasing incarcerated individuals from prison. In 2019 the FBI made 545,602 marijuana related arrests, meaning half a million people are going to jail for the possession of weed in just one year. 

There are instances across America of individuals who still have marijuana related charges on their record, while corporations begin to profit off of the legalization of weed. In order for marijuana to be legalized the police force and government must stop imprisoning individuals for the possession and distribution of marijuana. 

The Black Community as a whole has been disenfranchised by the continuous over-policing of drugs. Funding for schools and other community betterment programs have been diverted away from historically Black communities, because of the higher rates of drug charges. In addition to this, many government assistance programs require no prior chargers nor drug use. Both Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) have blocks limiting felons and known drug users from receiving assistance. In addition to this, and individual can be denied assisted housing over any suspicion of drug related or other criminal activity

In order for medical marjuana to truly be legalized its use and possession must not be criminalized on any level. While the state of New York has taken a big step towards more progressive drug policy there is still much more that must be done to reduce the effects the war on drugs has had on the Black community, along with the decriminalization of marijuana as a whole.