In the US state of New York, another reason for cautious optimism has emerged. Assembly Member Steve Katz (R-94th District) has decided to become a marijuana investor.
Elected in 2010 as a Republican Tea Party candidate, Katz claims that support for marijuana legalization was for him “a core belief from the time I was in college and Rockefeller was the Governor.” Katz points out that friends of his, including businessmen, doctors, and lawyers, use marijuana for medical or recreational purposes. “We’re all criminals? This is ridiculous,” he commented. However, he voted against a medical marijuana bill in 2012, explaining that despite his personal beliefs, his constituents seemed to be against the reform.
After being pulled over for speeding in March of this year, he was cited for possession of three grams of marijuana. The legal consequences for Katz were only a $75 fine and 20 hours of community service. He explains, though, that the incident made him “decide that I was going to not only be a champion for medical marijuana, and for its total legalization, I was going to become part of the wave that’s building in the industry itself.”
He has now joined the ArcView Group, an umbrella organization focused on cannabis which includes an investment group and a market research branch. Hopefully the presence of a state assembly member will improve the fledgling marijuana industry’s public image, not to mention Katz’s future votes in the Assembly.
Marijuana reform not yet been as successful in New York as in some neighboring states. Every state in New England now has a medical marijuana law in place, as does New Jersey. The region also has decriminalization laws in effect in every state but New Hampshire.
Several previous attempts have been made to pass medical marijuana bills in the state, going back as far as 2005. The Democrat-controlled state Assembly passed such measures in 2007 and 2008 by large margins. State Republicans, though, who control the Senate, have consistently been less supportive of such reforms. Another major obstacle is Mayor Bloomberg, who recently called medical marijuana “one of the great hoaxes of all time.” The assembly has passed another such bill this year, this time by a margin of 99-41, but the Senate has not taken action on it.
There is reason for hope, though; a poll from June of this year showed 70% support among New Yorkers for allowing access to marijuana with a doctor’s prescription.1 A clear majority among all demographics supported such reforms, including Republicans. Another poll from the same year shows a whopping 82% support.
Although New York state actually has actually had a decriminalization law in effect since 1977, you might not know it from the behavior of the New York Police Department. Possession of under 25 grams is a minor offense called a “violation,” akin to a traffic ticket, but “public display” of marijuana can be treated more seriously by the law. Police in the city often exploit this as a loophole in decriminalization by ordering people to empty their pockets in public. In the event that their pockets contain marijuana, they can be arrested and charged with a misdemeanor. Arrests in the city for such low-level possession have been estimated at over 50,000 in both 2010 and 2011, and over 39,000 in 2012.
Recent attempts to close this loophole have not been successful, despite the support of authorities such as Governor Andrew Cuomo, who originally proposed the reform, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who initially opposed similar changes to the law. The proposal would simply treat public possession of less than 25 grams as a violation rather than a misdemeanor. New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly actually issued a memorandum in 2011 ordering a change in police practice along the same lines, but such arrests did not cease. While the state assembly has voted in support of such a bill, the senate has not yet addressed the measure.
Broader legalization measures for the state have also been proposed this month. Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D-Buffalo) introduced a measure last week which would allow licensed marijuana retailers in municipalities which agree to such a system. Individuals under the age of 18 would be prohibited from purchasing the substance, while the state budget revenue would benefit from both an excise tax and the savings from criminal justice costs. State Senator Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan) introduced a similar bill the same week, with a minimum age of 21 rather than 18. Krueger admits, though, that she expects legalization will require a “multi-year educational process.” Katz’s upcoming investments should speed up the process.
1. See question #24.
Image credit to usatoday.com.