The state of New York has become widely known for its high rate of marijuana-related arrests. In addition, statistically, people of color and low-income holders have been disproportionately overrepresented in crimes related to cannabis possession. But, the legalization of cannabis for adult use has opened a new door for both these individuals and the state’s economy. So, in this article, we’ll look at how legalizing cannabis in New York can affect crime rates and diminish the socioeconomic disparity seen amongst minorities.
A Quick Summary: Legalization of Cannabis in New York
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Early this year, the state of New York took a step forward by legalizing the adult use of recreational marijuana. The NY state senate bill entitled S854A was approved and signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo on March of 2021. The bill enacts the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act permitting the possession and use of recreational marijuana in New York. Briefly, the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act allows the following:
Possessing marijuana is now legal: Adults over 21 years are legally permitted to possess and use recreational marijuana. The limit for possession is 3 ounces (85 g) of cannabis or 0.85 ounces (24 g) of concentrated cannabis.
Sales are yet to commence: There are no legal dispensaries open to the public. However, most predict that legal recreational marijuana is due to open in mid- 2022.
Growing marijuana for recreational use: Adults can also choose to cultivate up to 6 marijuana plants on their personal property or up to 12 plants per household. However, the cultivation of cannabis will only become legal 18 months after the opening of the first recreational marijuana dispensary.
A Correlation Between Cannabis Legalization and Crime Rates
The stigma associated with cannabis use has left many people wondering whether or not legalization would benefit society as a whole. Playing devil’s advocate, an opposing view to cannabis legalization can increase the crime rate and vehicle fatalities.
To address the correlation with crime rates, I took a look at the quarterly reports on the number of marijuana arrests and summonses published by the New York Police Department. According to the statistics taken from the second quarter, in 2018, the New York Police Department made 2,652 cannabis-related arrests. However, the statistics taken from the second quarter of 2021 show the number of cannabis-related arrests trend downwards. In 2021, the number of cannabis-related arrests decreased significantly to a total of 8 individuals.
In addition to the decrease in arrests, I looked at the general trend of marijuana-possession arrests published by the New York Cities Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice. The trend is similar to that published by the New York Police Department, indicating that arrests for cannabis possession had decreased by up to 93% since 2013.
One of the many concerns New Yorkers have on cannabis legalization is its effects on property crime. The logic behind the proposed argument is simple, could legal marijuana retailers face threats of robbery, thus endangering the lives of citizens. Now, New York has not officially legalized the sale of cannabis through dispensaries, but the argument is worth exploring.
To address this argument, I took a look at the general trends on property crime in states with legal marijuana dispensaries. The data found can be summarized below:
A 2019 study explored the spatial association between medical marijuana dispensaries and crime. The study was conducted in Washington, D.C, a state where medical marijuana is readily available for purchase through dispensaries. It concluded that the establishment of medical marijuana dispensaries does not appear to have an immediate criminogenic effect on the surrounding area. The study argues that if these cannabis dispensaries themselves were deemed criminogenic, then, in theory, there should have been a more significant shift in crime directly following the opening of this facility in the surrounding area.
The Marijuana Race Game: The Effects of Legal Marijuana on Minorities
For decades cannabis prohibition in New York has targeted minorities and communities with a low socioeconomic status. For example, a recent report saw that minorities— individuals identified as Black, Asian, or Native American were 4 times more likely to get arrested for marijuana possession in Syracuse. It has also been demonstrated that high marijuana arrest zip codes appear to have lower median household income presenting an apparent disparity in socioeconomic status.
Comparatively, the arrests seen in New York city follow a similar trend where between the years 2010 to 2020, black individuals accounted for approximately 50.8% of marijuana-related arrests. In contrast, those identified as Hispanic accounted for 35.0% of all marijuana-related arrests in New York.
The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act Opens New Doors
The cannabis prohibition in New York had led to a severe social and ethnic disparity. For decades, the minorities and people of lower-income were over-represented with regards to marijuana-possession-related arrests.
But, not all hope was lost!
Legalizing marijuana in New York has led to the development of the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act. The details of this act are extensive, and for this article, we’ll simply address some potential benefits of cannabis taxation in New York.
Point 1: Within the first year of legalization, the state of New York expects to receive revenue of $20 million. Revenue generated from the marijuana tax will be allocated to two sub-funds, including the Community Grants Reinvestment Fund and the Drug Treatment and Public Education Fund. Collectively these funds will focus on:
- Implementing a youth-focused public health education system.
- To expand community-based programs, including an afterschool program for youth.
- Allocating funds to community-based nonprofits and mental health services.
Overall, the idea proposed by the legislative is to support and invest in communities that have been disproportionately subjected to cannabis criminalization.
Point 2: The act effectively establishes an economic equity plan which actively promotes racial and gender diversity. The New York Economic equity plan aims to support diversity in cannabis-related commerce businesses and employment. This includes encouraging more minority or women-owned businesses throughout the state.
To put it simply, the idea proposed by the legislature will play a major role in providing job opportunities to minorities and communities who have been affected by the cannabis prohibition.
Point 3: The expungement of previous cannabis records allows for a new start. Individuals with a criminal record often face obstacles when trying to reincorporate themselves into society. For example, even individuals with a low-level marijuana arrest may face challenges when applying for employment or federal housing. Legalizing marijuana in the state of New York would expunge those with a previous minor cannabis record, and this in itself would give those convicted of cannabis misdemeanor a fresh start.
I don’t think we can completely understand the effects of legalizing marijuana in New York. This is mainly because the state has only just legalized the recreational use of cannabis. However, we can make an educated guess. The information and statistics provided by the state suggest that the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation act may offer more opportunities and more benefits to communities that New York’s long-standing cannabis prohibition has negatively impacted. Perhaps it’s simply a waiting game, where the true effects of ending the cannabis prohibition in New York will become more apparent with the years to come.