It was welcome news that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced he will seek to end the thousands of arrests in New York City for low-level marijuana possession.
The measure still has to make its way through the legislature but there are plenty of advocates from City Hall to Albany that back this measure.
There are two problems Cuomo’s initiative will help fix. First: the NYPD loses an inordinate amount of their resources in time spent processing paperwork and arrestees through the system. Their time would be of much better value by first developing positive relationships with the communities they police and second by targeting real criminals, especially gangs that traffic in violence.
Given that 1-in-7 arrests in the City is for low-level marijuana possession, the police should want to be able to focus on bigger problems. Not doing so only leads to more friction between these communities and the police.
Of course, what this really speaks to is the failed War on Drugs. This War is an unmitigated disaster that has not accomplished one iota in actually reducing the amount of drugs in the country. Stats from the Justice Department even show that roughly the same amount of drugs cross into the U.S. each year despite the best efforts of the Border Patrol.
Even worse is that America’s addiction to pot and cocaine has provided the fuel for Mexico’s own narco-inspired violence. Our drug money has led to the corruption of Mexican civic life and threatens to do the same on the U.S. side of the border.
Cuomo’s move to reduce arrests for low-level marijuana possession is a tacit acknowledgement that arresting teens for a having a joint in their pocket has clearly not stemmed the flow of drugs into our communities and has saddled youngsters with arrest records that only harm their employment chances.
Let’s also be real for a moment and acknowledge that it puts Cuomo in a better position politically. He gains more allies when he’s up for reelection in 2014 – his approval rating is already near 70%. And he also becomes somewhat of an urban hero as a potential Presidential candidate in either 2016 or 2020 (depending on what happens this year). The marijuana legalization issue has evolved much like the same sex marriage issue as more than half of all Americans now support legalizing drugs, according to an October 2011 Gallup poll. A more recent May Rasmussen poll found that 56% of Americans supported the legalization of marijuana. In legalizing it in the nation’s largest urban area of nearly 9 million, Cuomo can first point to real evidence that it works while subtly appealing to both younger and – by the time he would run for president – age 30-50 voters who are a lot more liberal in their attitudes about the drug war and marijuana use. Politically, the issue elevates him.
But, just because I am an advocate for reforming the War on Drugs, should not be misconstrued to mean that I am an apologist for drug use. We should discourage the use of marijuana in the same manner we regulate the use of alcohol.
Most importantly, though, is that we develop a pragmatic strategy that thoughtfully considers the consequences of our ill-conceived War on Drugs. Is violence and corruption in the U.S. and Mexico plus lengthy arrest records for minor possession worth the slim results? The answer is no.
— Managing Editor Charles D. Ellison contributed to this analysis