What Marijuana Legalization Can Offer New York

By: Daniel Aarao Reis Arturi

The conversation surrounding the legalization of Marijuana is not a new one; decriminalization began in 1973 in Texas, medical legalization in California in 1996, and of course recreational legalization in Colorado eight years ago. But I’m writing this article today, why? 

One of the most significant aspects of the legalization of marjuana is the way in which those laws disproportionately affect people of color. Black people were found to be 3.64 times more likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana than their white counterparts despite equal rates of usage, and in some states the number was up to ten times as much. (ACLU) But this is a vast, expansive subject that would require ten articles and a documentary to properly do justice to, additionally last year I wrote another article on the legalization of marijuana that delves into this matter more deeply, if you want to learn more. 

The defining cataclysm of our age has been, as I’m sure no one needs to be told, the coronavirus pandemic. And as those in power have not listened to the 91% of people who believe that marijuana should be legal in some capacity (Pew Research) perhaps they will heed the language of death and money in the coming months. As a country we have all suffered immensely, but here in New York that suffering has been acutely felt. Mornings we were accustomed to spending on crowded trains have been replaced by 24 hours in bed. I even find myself missing the sight our tourists meandering around Times Square. 

We have all felt the human cost of the past months too. I remember doctors and nurses using halloween costumes as makeshift masks in a horrible satire at our federal government. I remember the fear I felt every day knowing that my mother, an essential worker might get sick and not have a bed available at a hospital, let alone a ventilator (another thing we were horribly short on). Or when Trump effectively started a bidding war amongst the states for those very supplies, the panicked mad dash for supplies. 

Of course the most important thing has always been the lives of our fellow human beings, but it is very important to note how money has played into this pandemic. The stimulus checks that, for many, were a too brief reprieve from a long winded disaster. The moratoriums on eviction that have only prevented displacement of many but not even close to all. And those rent payments will still be due, and the financial destruction of many has already happened or is imminent. Small businesses are suffering while big corporations rake in bailout money. 

New York has been one of the states most affected by the virus. Because of how the economies of our major cities are structured New York state holds 4 of the 5 most affected cities (nytimes), including New York City itself. This is a uniquely abrupt recession, and how we respond to it will define our quality of life as a state for years to come. And of course those most vulnerable have been the most affected. Before the pandemic unemployment has been hovering around 2 – 4 percent in the greater New York City area, now that number has multiplied to closer to 12 percent, with poorer neighborhoods impacted far worse than that. 

Our own school system has also been impacted as well, the largest school district in the country requires a lot of resources, resources that the city has not historically been able to provide. This pandemic has pushed the system to the absolute limit. Even earlier this year Mr. Jacobs (C) said that hybrid school wasn’t possible because the school wasn’t granted enough resources to hire new teachers to fill the necessary positions in order to teach two groups of students. Because of these city-wide budget cuts a hiring freeze has been put in effect, but now is a time where schools need more support than ever, not less. But, it’s no secret that the DOE has always purported an inequitable distribution of resources and Beacon has been lucky enough to be on the disproportionately well off side of that inequality. 

In April the DOE was hit with a $707 million budget cut in time where it’s more and more essential to develop new strategies for teaching in a pandemic; strategies that often incur new costs. With such a big package of cuts from the budget it’s not surprising to hear that a lot of very important programs were cut. The wraparound program targeting high need students had their budgets cut, threatening the existence of those programs at many schools where the programs were proven to have positive impacts on the community. Reimbursement for teachers buying supplies has been cut, something additionally impactful now that teachers are finding themselves with far more responsibility. These are two examples of many cuts that we at Beacon will not feel nearly as acutely as those living in lower income communities.

Covid has also incurred many new unexpected costs that further emphasize the city’s desperate need for funding. The city has spent $269 million dollars on 300,000 iPads for the new class of students forced to work from home, along with hotspot connections for all of those new devices. The city is so strapped for cash they have been sending schools the cheapest protective equipment they could find – at the expense of actual functionality. A Queens principal complained of thermometers that display temperatures colder than a corpse, smelly wipes that don’t disinfect, and cheap masks of dubious effectiveness. 

This is why, now more than ever, we need to legalize marijuana. 61% of New Yorkers actively support the legalization of recreational cannabis. In legal states marijuana is an essential service that is helping get people through this tough time, in the same way that liquor stores have stayed open for that very reason. New Yorkers have long (rightfully) complained about the deficiencies present in many of the city’s services. Now, in this time of extreme crisis we as a state need more support from the government, support that we don’t have the resources to fund. Support required across the city, not just in the public school system. 

So how juicy is this big pot of money that other states have been enjoying? Michigan has brought in $35 million between December and July. As of June 2019 Colorado has generated over $1 billion dollars to fund government services. California, while having legalized weed much later than Colorado, has created $1.03 billion in tax revenue, with the industry projected to earn over a billion dollars a year in the coming years. New Jersey, among the latest batch of states to legalize predicts that their marijuana sector may be worth $2 billion a year, a valuable chunk of which will go into the state coffers.

Every state distributes revenue from marijuana sales differently, and despite the budget related problems our school system is having, there are many different city services being threatened by the economic recession we are experiencing. Other states have put those funds to work in very positive ways, with Washington pledging the money towards healthcare, Alaska is funding programs to reduce repeat criminal offenses, some states are distributing the money among local governments, the list goes on. 

The people are calling for the legalization of marijuana. Marijuana has shown itself time and time again to be none of the things our federal government has claimed it to be for so many decades. It has proven itself essential in all the states that it is legal in. The criminalization of marijuana was incentivized by racist pro war ideologies, and has continued to perpetuate the racist system of mass incarceration of black men in this country. Right now we need this. Our state is hurting, as no one needs to tell you. Our schools are hurting, lower income neighborhoods more than anywhere else need support that the city has failed to provide. New York already has such a vibrant and famous marijuana culture, and this pandemic has encouraged larger and larger intakes of marijuana in weed smokers. There is money on the table that we are leaving, when we need every penny we can get. That’s unfair to the New Yorkers who have been financially crippled, to the school systems without the money they need to make the critical adaptations that the pandemic has called for. When will our state legislature finally start representing the will and best interests of their constituents?