Many New York City Residents Agree with Marijuana Policy Change

Jeremy, an 18-year-old resident of Chelsea, has smoked marijuana throughout his teen years.

“Going back to freshman year of high school, I’ve noticed pretty much 90 percent of the people I have known have either done marijuana once or continue to do marijuana to this day,” 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.

“Alcohol can be legalized, [but] does more damage to your liver than weed would ever do to your lungs in your entire lifespan,” he said.

He’s not the only one who has this opinion.

“I think the law should be the same as alcohol, but I think that cigarettes should be illegal,” says Julie Zuckerman, a 53-year-old school principal. “Black and brown males are getting thrown into jail for something that’s not–I don’t think should be considered criminal behavior and is certainly not violent.”

“I’ve never seen someone on marijuana harm somebody else,” said Stefanie Gonzalez, a 28-year-old medical assistant from Ozone Park, Queens. “It actually calms you down. It helps a lot of people sleep, it helps a lot of people who are anorexic–hungry–gain an appetite.”

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 person’s outer clothes for weapons or other items. 

“The reason why I was a victim of a stop-and-frisk was because I was Latin-American,” said Kendrick Sena, 23 from Harlem. “The first time I ever got stop and frisked I was doing nothing but going to the store.”

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.

“Working in the court system I could not agree with it, period,” she said. “It 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.” 

But Gov. Cuomo and others defend the proposal.

“This is an issue that disproportionately affects young people — 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,” Cuomo said in a statement.

Gabriel Sayegh, New York State Director for the Drug Policy Alliance, agrees.

“Overly punitive charges have a harmful effect….they can ruin lives, waste taxpayer money on unneeded trials, and breed distrust between communities and law enforcement,” 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 it’s working well here in New York City.

“It definitely makes me less nervous to walk around the city,” said Chelsea resident Sasha, 17. “Not to say that I have marijuana on me at all times…[but] it’s nice to know you have a little bit more of a security blanket.”





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