One state that borders New York — Massachusetts — already has legalized the recreational use of marijuana. Two others, Maine and New Hampshire, are not far away. Two other neighbors — New Jersey and Vermont — are close to legalization.
So it comes as no surprise that word has leaked out of Albany that the Cuomo administration is soon going to recommend that New York legalize it as well.
This will immediately help many who might have been helped by the use of marijuana to relieve pain and for other medicinal purposes but who have struggled with a system that included many arbitrary limitations on both supply and the illnesses that qualified.
Those who are unalterably opposed to medicinal use or expanded legalization will soon face a very uncomfortable choice. They can either continue their opposition and hope that they can at least stall this effort, or they can do the best they can to make sure that when New York legalizes the use of marijuana for anything other than medicinal purposes, it does so with a full and effective range of measures designed to provide the best protection possible for public safety.
There are many examples.
We accept the concept of the designated driver. If four guys are going out for drinks, it’s better that one promises to stay sober. We accept the idea that people drink, that some people drink too much. But we try to make sure that when — not if — people drink, we have both legal and informal ways to minimize the dangers that they pose.
Prohibition did not stop people from drinking. Laws prohibiting the use of marijuana do not stop people from using it. So we need to apply standards like the ones we already have accepted on alcohol to pot as well.
There are laws and regulations in the states where pot is legal to guide New York as we develop our own approach.
It starts with age. While many who now smoke pot are under 21, establishing that as the age for legal use of marijuana could actually help reduce the use among younger people. It’s not a sure thing, but it would give law enforcement one clear tool.
The second consideration is quantity. All states that have legalized the recreational use of marijuana have strict limits on how much a person can buy at stores, which also have licensing regulations, or possess or grow.
Again, this would give law enforcement a practical tool much more effective than the all-or-nothing approach they now have to apply.
States can regulate where people use marijuana. Colorado, for example, in its law, prohibits use openly and publicly. New York can decide, for example, to ban use in vehicles, in public spaces, in restaurants and in other places where we already prohibit the use of tobacco. Again this would help law enforcement.
The most difficult area for enforcement is the same one that offers a challenge when it comes to the use of alcohol — operating a motor vehicle. Any laws would have to include measurable limits, the presumption that a person cannot refuse to be tested without consequence and severe penalties and fines.