Up in Smoke: The Legalization of Marijuana in New York

AJ Vermes and Aidan Cocuelle


The legalization of marijuana in the state of New York has been in question for several years now. On March 31, New York enacted “The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act,” legalizing the use of recreational cannabis. In my opinion, legalization by the state government is long overdue, and federal legalization should follow. Marijuana does have negative aspects to it.  It can cause the reduction of particular brain cells, and long-term use can have behavioral side-effects such as affecting one’s work ethic, and impairing one’s vision while operating a vehicle. However, the legalization of weed has more upside than it does downside. First and foremost, the government should not have the right to decide what citizens ingest into their own bodies. Marijuana is organic, a natural plant whose side effects are not much different than the alcohol consumed nightly at thousands of bars across the country.

Thousands of people have been incarcerated or have been given summons for possession or distribution of marijuana per year in the state of New York alone for possessing or using something that, used in moderation, is relatively harmless. Not only will the legalization of marijuana lead to lower incarceration rates, helping non-violent criminal offenders get out of jail, but legalization will also help boost the economy.

In 2019, the marijuana industry was worth an estimated 13.6 billion dollars and created an additional 340,000 jobs, according to New Frontier Data and is estimated to have just grown from there. A report that was funded by Scotts Miracle-Gro estimates legalization will bring billions’ of dollars to New York State and would create an estimated 50,800 jobs. So, legalization of marijuana will counteract mass non-violent incarceration and could potentially boost the economy by creating new jobs and building a new industry. 

On top of the legality and economic standpoints, marijuana usage may help people with their mental health conditions/concerns. In 2017, a national survey conducted by PubMed Central asked 9,000 subjects if marijuana use helped with “anxiety, stress, and depression relief.” A resounding 81% said it benefited them. 

Allowing people to have easier access to marijuana will also help get people off the pharmaceutical pills, which contain strong chemicals that can lead to expensive addictions. Even though legalization could potentially bring in billions of dollars to the economy and create thousands of jobs, the government hasn’t been willing to risk hurting large pharmaceutical companies. I understand that these politicians’ campaigns are funded by the pharmaceuticals, but hopefully they can pull their heads out of the water and see what’s best for the people of New York. 



Although New York State has finalized a deal to legalize marijuana, there are some negative consequences that can result. While the legalization of marijuana would bolster a New York economy still recovering from the effects of the pandemic, there are a few ramifications of legalization that other states have suffered from that validate reasons for concern and outweigh the benefits of legalization.

Data has shown that legalized states have a higher rate of marijuana-impaired traffic accidents than non-legalized states.. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 12 million U.S. residents (4.7% of the population) over the age of 16 drove while under the influence of marijuana in 2018. With an estimated 10,511 alcohol-impaired deaths, “the contribution of marijuana and other illicit drugs to these and other impaired driving deaths remains unknown” said the CDC, as an accurate roadside test for drug levels in the body has yet to be created. Washington, became one of the first states to legalize marijuana in 2012; from 2013 to 2014, the “percentage of drivers involved in fatal crashes who recently used marijuana more than doubled from eight to 17 percent,” according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. If New York were to legalize the drug, it is almost certain that traffic accidents and deaths in the state will increase; this will not only cost lives but also will require funding to repair the damages of traffic accidents, and to develop a comprehensive substance test.

Another possible consequence is that teenage marijuana use tends to be higher in states where marijuana is legal. A study at the University of Washington found that “teens may be more likely to use marijuana following legalization — with the proliferation of stores and increasing adult use of the drug — than they otherwise would have been.”

In addition, studies have found that marijuana use has surged as a result of boredom and stress amid the lockdown measures. Marijuana use will obviously increase if New York were to legalize the drug, and seeing as how smoking marijuana is often a social activity that involves sharing and breathing from the same joint/bong/pipe/vaporizer, it can facilitate the spread of the virus, leading to more cases and possibly deaths. This is something that must be considered especially as the pandemic remains a prevalent part of daily life. If there are more upsides than downsides to legalization, it should come post-pandemic, not at this time.