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Don’t Buy All Those Phony Myths About Legalizing Pot

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Don’t Buy All Those Phony Myths About Legalizing Pot

New York Post April 12, 2019
Urban PolicyOther
Health PolicyOther

The City Council this week enacted a law prohibiting most employers from testing new employees for marijuana. While people who drive commercial vehicles, serve as police officers or take care of children, among others, are exempted from the law, the Big Apple has elevated potheads into a new protected class.

Manhattan DA Cy Vance thinks marijuana should be made legal. But the data he has cited in recent discussions with the council belie his rhetoric and make it clear that legalization is a bad idea.

Vance told the council in February, for example, that “in 2017, we prosecuted a total of 5,453 people for marijuana possession. Of those, only 6 percent had a violent conviction at any point in their lives.” Therefore, he concluded, “this is not a particularly violent cohort of individuals.”

Not being convicted of a violent crime is a low bar to set. The fact that “only” 6 percent of pot arrestees are violent criminals only raises more questions: How many people carry a conviction for violent crime?

Available data are sketchy, but it appears that at most only 1 percent to 2 percent of New Yorkers are convicted violent criminals. In other words, Vance just as easily could have said that people arrested for marijuana are at least three to six times more violent than the average person.

Then, too, what if it turned out that only 6 percent of people arrested for drunk driving had convictions for violence? Would that be a good reason to stop prosecuting drunk drivers?

The premise behind this legalization push is the notion that marijuana busts have created mass incarceration and destroyed millions of minority lives. But this remains a myth, debunked by liberal and conservative criminologists alike.

Relatively few people are in jail or prison even for drug trafficking, and when it comes to simple possession, the numbers are vanishingly small.

The average number of people in jail in New York City for marijuana possession on an average day is one.

As Vance himself has noted, of the thousands of people prosecuted for possession of marijuana in 2017, less than 1 percent, or 38 offenders, wound up in jail. So much for the lie, peddled by Councilman and legalization advocate Donovan Richards, that we are “flooding our prisons with marijuana offenders and disproportionally impacting communities of color.”

Vance has also told the council that the experience of the states that have legalized marijuana informs his position. “Marijuana legalization as it has been done elsewhere,” he told the council in February, “can be done safely and can bring us one step closer to right-sizing the criminal-justice system.”

But a report from Vance’s own office, “Marijuana, Fairness and Public Safety,” highlights the ­major problems that states have faced since legalizing pot. In Colorado, where legal recreational pot arrived in January 2014, “the state’s overall crime rate increased by 5 percent, while other states trended downward” in 2016.

Violent crime in Colorado went up 12.5 percent, two and a half times faster than the national average. The rate of violent crime, including murder, has steadily gone up in post-legalization ­Seattle, too.

Then there’s the oft-repeated claim that legalizing marijuana will eliminate the black market. But this line, too, has proved to be untrue. The higher costs of running a legal marijuana business — licenses, rent, insurance, taxes — make it appealing for illegal operators to undercut the competition and sell the same product for less.

Vance’s report explains: “Nearly five years after the first recreational marijuana store opened in Colorado, a black market continues to thrive in legalized states.” This black market, the report continues, is largely “controlled by foreign nationals,” who import “human-trafficking victims who have been forced to work in these illegal ‘grow homes.’ ”

As for the health effects, hospital admissions for acute marijuana intoxication have soared. Says Vance’s report: “One of the most frequent problems is marijuana consumption by children, particularly of high-potency ­edibles that children find in their homes.”

Even more worrisome, marijuana-impaired drivers have caused hundreds of additional crash-related deaths. “Traffic deaths in Colorado where a driver tested positive for marijuana more than doubled from 55 deaths in 2013 to 123 deaths in 2016,” according to the Vance report. Washington and Oregon report similar findings.

Pro-pot propaganda has sold legalization as racial justice. But that’s a mirage. We should slow down and consider the facts ­before we embrace a solution that may be worse than the problem.

This piece originally appeared at New York Post

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Seth Barron is an associate editor of City Journal and project director of the NYC Initiative at the Manhattan Institute.

Photo by iStock

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