Puff, Puff Passed

Cartoon by Luke Benicase.

President-elect Donald Trump’s surprising victory in the 2016 presidential race has dominated popular media, but many new pieces of legislation were also voted into place at the state level on Tuesday, Nov. 8. One such piece of legislation was Massachusetts’s Marijuana Legalization Initiative, or Question 4 on the back of Massachusetts voters’ 2016 ballots, which was approved by voters across the state.

The initiative will permit residents of the state over the age of 21 to use, grow and purchase marijuana in a regulated manner not dissimilar to alcohol consumption and acquisition. Voters in California and Nevada also approved similar pieces of legislation in the November 2016 election cycle. Now, the percentage of Americans living in states where marijuana is legal has skyrocketed from 5 percent to 20 percent, The New York Times reported.

What will Massachusetts’s legalization of recreational marijuana use, coming from another predominantly “blue” northeastern state, mean for New Yorkers? The jury is still out. Various news outlets claim that the push for legal marijuana could echo outward through the rest of the nation. One thing is for certain, though: Massachusetts’ vote in favor of legal marijuana usage, in tandem with California and Nevada’s decisions, reflects a shift in the nation’s attitude toward a drug that was once highly vilified by authorities.

A Pew Research study from February of 2015 highlighted a stark age divide that exists on this issue. Previous generations are split along party lines, with only Democrats supporting legalization efforts. However, Millennials, such as those that write for The Oracle, show predominant support for marijuana legalization on both sides of aisle. 

We at The New Paltz Oracle believe that recreational and medicinal use of marijuana should be legalized in New York. Recent research suggests that marijuana use can be beneficial for treating a variety of health concerns: an August 2016 study from Time International found that marijuana was a successful treatment for veterans experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder. Likewise, a September 2016 article from Scientific American hypothesized that marijuana could be employed to combat prescription opioid addictions across the country.

Recreational marijuana usage has clear benefits, too: according to data by drugpolicy.org, Colorado’s legalization of recreational marijuana, which went into place in January 2014, garnered the state over $40 million in tax revenue over the course of a calendar year. The policy also resulted in dramatic decreases in arrests for marijuana possession, cultivation and distribution, leaving more money in the pockets of taxpayers and less to be wasted by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). The Washington Post reported last year that, as part of the DEA’s $14 million marijuana eradication program, the agency spent $20,000 in New Hampshire to eradicate a grand total of 27 marijuana plants as well as $73,000 in Utah, which led to the seizure of exactly zero plants.

Of course, marijuana usage comes with its pitfalls. The drug has long been speculated to negatively impact reproductive health and cognitive function. Perhaps most scarily, some casual marijuana users in states where it is not legal to consume recreationally have turned to questionable legal substitutes like salvia, which pose their own significant health risks. 

That’s where legalized marijuana for recreational usage provides a beneficial solution. Highly regulated production and distribution of marijuana, the likes of which are found in states that have legalized the substance beyond medicinal usage, help control the quality of the substance, creating a safer and potentially more enjoyable experience for casual users. The American College of Emergency Physicians argues that, because drug dealers care little about purity or whether or not a customer is of proper age, a formal, regulated market is actually safer than the prohibitive alternative.

In an era where the stigma of marijuana, which originated during the misguided and destructive War on Drugs, is being cast off state-by-state, it would ultimately benefit New York to embrace legalized recreational marijuana. Economically, it would fill the state’s coffers and allow for better funding of public institutions and infrastructure; socially, it would, in part, address the overincarceration problem facing the nation; and ideologically, it would reinforce the importance of personal freedom and the bodily autonomy infringed upon by New York’s current prohibitive marijuana policy.