New York used to have a very high arrest rate for cannabis. Thankfully, that is changing. The Data Collaborative for Justice says, “In New York City, the arrest rate for marijuana possession was 21 per 100,000 in 1990 and peaked in 2000 at 956 per 100,000 before declining to 311 per 100,000 in 2017. In Upstate Cities, the arrest rate was 63 per 100,000 in 1990, peaked in 2012 at 324 per 100,000, and declined to 126 per 100,000 in 2017.”All-in-all, the arrest rate for cannabis in the state of New York is reported to have decreased by 96% since 2013.
New York has seen its share of obstacles with cannabis legalization. Many would consider the state’s medical and recreational cannabis programs to be a huge success. According to the Comptroller’s Office, legal cannabis in New York “could conservatively yield annual tax revenues of as much as $1.3 billion total at the State and City levels.” New Yorkers have always been vocal against marijuana prohibition, a tool used by authorities to target people and communities of color since the early days of marijuana prohibition. PBS says that “Black and Hispanic residents made up 93% of marijuana arrests in New York City.”
Early supporters of marijuana prohibition, much like supporters today, believed that cannabis was a gateway drug that would lead to crime and other drug use. The LaGuardia Committee Report on Marijuana commissioned the New York Academy of Medicine to research the effects of cannabis in 1938. A few years later, in 1944, the academy released its findings. The NY Academy of Medicine said, “The gateway drug theory is without foundation.” The Denver University of Law says that “In 1944, the New York Academy of Medicine issued an extensively researched report declaring that, contrary to earlier research and popular belief, use of marijuana did not induce violence, insanity or sex crimes, or lead to addiction or other drug use.”
Some NY Cannabis Companies Are Challenging the System
New York cannabis agencies have found themselves in hot water with state residents. Particularly cannabis business owners. According to the AP, “The lawsuit, filed in state court in Albany, claims that state cannabis regulators exceeded their legal authority when they opened the initial application pool in August only to people with past pot convictions or their relatives, instead to everyone. The lawsuit names as defendants the state’s Cannabis Control Board and Office of Cannabis Management, as well as top officials.”
The lawsuit says that state cannabis officials “overstepped their rule-making authority.” Because of this, the lawsuit claims these actions “indefinitely postponed the licensing of the hundreds of additional dispensaries necessary to satisfy consumer demand and to displace the illicit markets.” Speaking of illicit markets, New York is allegedly facing problems with the black market for cannabis in the state. It wasn’t long ago the cultivators in New York had so much cannabis sitting around they had fears of it going bad. And that’s exactly what just happened. Green Market Report released an article titled “Legal California Cannabis ‘Flooding’ Unlicensed New York Shops.”
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Amanda Chicago Lewis is a New York freelance investigative reporter who appears to tell it like it is. She told PBS, “Consumers generally choose illegal shops because of price. Why would you buy an $80 eighth of weed at a legal shop when you can get a $25 eighth of weed at an illegal shop?” This is a very valid point. Many people don’t really care about the certified lab tests as long as the weed tastes good and does the trick. Add in there are very few legal cannabis shops compared to illicit ones, and you find people supporting the black market.
Allyson Martin is the founder of a cannabis media company, Cannabis Wire. When asked about the number of cannabis shops operating illegally, she was quoted saying, “Officials have calculated conservatively that there are 1,400 unlicensed shops in the five boroughs. I think that number is probably quite a bit higher.”
What Is Legal Cannabis Like in New York?
In New York, you are allowed to smoke a joint anywhere you can smoke a cigarette. This is not the case in many other places that have legal cannabis laws. In most states that have passed medical cannabis or recreational cannabis, it can only be consumed in private such as at a residence or cannabis lounge. Public consumption is not permitted and oftentimes can result in a civil fine if you’re caught. That’s not the case in New York. People say the streets of New York smell like weed. Some people complain about this, while others look at this as the sweet smell of success.
For decades now and still, to this day, countless sidewalks and parking lots are filled with the smell of tobacco smoke. Finally, a much more pleasant smoke, such as cannabis, is taking its place. Legal cannabis dispensaries in the state of New York have high prices that do not compete with the illicit black market. Many people are not willing to pay those extra dollars for certified lab testing to verify the cannabinoid and terpene profile and levels of their weed. A big issue people face with black market cannabis though is microbial contamination and banned pesticides.
Consuming cannabis that was cultivated using banned pesticides or that has microbial contamination can lead to a wide array of health complications, effectively going against everything cannabis represents. Cannabis is medicine. It is a healing plant when cultivated properly and utilized correctly. Will New York manage to get a grip on the legal cannabis industry, or will weed from out west continue to fill illicit cannabis shops across the state?