Jeremy, an 18-year-old resident of Chelsea, has smoked marijuana throughout his teen years.
âÂÂGoing back to freshman year of high school, IâÂÂve noticed pretty much 90 percent of the people I have known have either done marijuana once or continue to do marijuana to this day,âÂÂ he said.
Over 50,000 marijuana-related arrests were made in 2011 and 2010 in New York City alone. In an effort to lower that number, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced in June that the criminal penalty for possession of small amounts of marijuana would be lessened to a fine rather than an arrest. A similar state law has been proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, but has yet to pass.
Many New York City residents, particularly the youth, think the law should be enacted. They argue that marijuana is harmless when compared to many other substances yet the penalties are harsher.
âÂÂAlcohol can be legalized, [but] does more damage to your liver than weed would ever do to your lungs in your entire lifespan,âÂÂ he said.
He’s not the only one who has this opinion.
âÂÂI think the law should be the same as alcohol, but I think that cigarettes should be illegal,âÂÂ says Julie Zuckerman, a 53-year-old school principal. âÂÂBlack and brown males are getting thrown into jail for something thatâÂÂs not–I donâÂÂt think should be considered criminal behavior and is certainly not violent.âÂÂ
âÂÂIâÂÂve never seen someone on marijuana harm somebody else,âÂÂ said Stefanie Gonzalez, a 28-year-old medical assistant from Ozone Park, Queens. âÂÂIt actually calms you down. It helps a lot of people sleep, it helps a lot of people who are anorexic–hungry–gain an appetite.âÂÂ
During 2011 and 2010 African-American and Latinos were often victims of stop-and-frisk searches, making it seem as if police were targeting certain people based on their race and color. A stop-and-frisk occurs when police confront a suspicious person in an attempt to prevent a crime from happening. The police pat down and search the personâÂÂs outer clothes for weapons or other items.
âÂÂThe reason why I was a victim of a stop-and-frisk was because I was Latin-American,âÂÂ said Kendrick Sena, 23 from Harlem. âÂÂThe first time I ever got stop and frisked I was doing nothing but going to the store.âÂÂ
However, not every New Yorker is in favor of this new decriminalization policy. Suzanne Kogan, a 50-year old Riverdale resident who has been a drug counselor who works in the Brooklyn courts, is completely against it.
âÂÂWorking in the court system I could not agree with it, period,âÂÂ she said. âÂÂIt is far more dangerous to your lungs, despite what people may think and say, and affects your memory and parts of your brain. Marijuana is a gateway drug that leads to people using heavier drugs. I would say the policy is a bad idea unless it was used for people who are dying, or [a] medical reason.âÂÂ
But Gov. Cuomo and others defend the proposal.
“This is an issue that disproportionately affects young people âÂÂ they wind up with a permanent stain on their record for something that would otherwise be a violation. The charge makes it more difficult for them to find a job,âÂÂ Cuomo said in a statement.
Gabriel Sayegh, New York State Director for the Drug Policy Alliance, agrees.
âÂÂOverly punitive charges have a harmful effectâÂ¦.they can ruin lives, waste taxpayer money on unneeded trials, and breed distrust between communities and law enforcement,âÂÂ he said in a statement.
The statewide policy has yet to pass, due to opposition from Republicans in the State Senate. But local residents say itâÂÂs working well here in New York City.
âÂÂIt definitely makes me less nervous to walk around the city,âÂÂ said Chelsea resident Sasha, 17. âÂÂNot to say that I have marijuana on me at all times…[but] itâÂÂs nice to know you have a little bit more of a security blanket.âÂÂ