Park Smoke

Whether it be what you like to do at 3 a.m. while watching Golden Girls reruns and eating White Castle Microwaveable Cheeseburgers, or whether you consider it taboo, America’s views about marijuana are changing.

Eighteen states have legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes, Colorado and Washington became the first two states to legalize it for recreational usage, and according to a 2012 Rasmussen poll, fifty-six percent of Americans think marijuana should be legalized and regulated like alcohol and tobacco. Yet despite all this, there is still resistance. According to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), the US still spends nearly $42 billion per year in marijuana-related criminal justice costs and in lost tax revenues, there were 853,838 arrests made in 2010 for marijuana-related offenses, and a majority of states still ban it even for medicinal purposes. Under the Controlled Substances Act, the federal government considers it a Level 1 drug—every bit as dangerous as heroin with no medical benefit—and they continue to raid and prosecute marijuana sellers and users regardless of individual state legality. Where do you stand on this issue? Do you want to continue locking people up for nonviolent marijuana violations? Do you want to let marijuana be legalized? And where does New York and Park Slope fall within this dank, purple haze do you ask? I will share.

According to a Sienna College poll, fifty-seven percent of registered voters in New York state are for the legalization of medical marijuana. Though not yet for full legalization, Governor Andrew Cuomo, with the support of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, did introduce a plan to decriminalize the possession of small amounts. Like most progressive legislation in Albany, the bill died. If it had been enacted, it would have changed the punishment for possession of twenty-five grams or less from a criminal misdemeanor to a violation with a fine of up to $100.

In 2011, the New York City spent about $75 million arresting approximately 50,700 people for low-level marijuana offenses as reported by Fox News. Marijuana accounts for more arrests than any other crime in the city (nothing kills a good buzz like being put in a jail cell). The $75 million price tag includes court costs, police manpower and jail time. Data from the 2010 US Census and NY State Division of Criminal Justice Services estimate that approximately 1,150 people get arrested in neighboring Bedford- Stuyvesant each year for possession and about 1,600 get arrested in Brownsville. How many people get arrested in Park Slope? About 115 a year. Hmmmm… so police lock up about 1,035 more people in Bed-Stuy and 1,485 more people in Brownsville per year than they do in Park Slope. Why the disparity? (I’ve smelt more than my fair share of ganja wafting down Park Slope avenues in little green clouds.) Ailsa Chang of WNYC reports, “Though national studies show young whites smoke pot more, eighty-seven percent of those arrested for marijuana in New York City are either black or Latino.” But that would mean that Park Slope is more white than the surrounding neighborhoods… oh right. My advice to the 115 Park Slopers who did get arrested: stop skateboarding and taking bong hits in front of Precinct 78.

Except when it comes to the Top Notch Gentlemen terrifying young mothers by smoking blunts on the playground at Lincoln Place, Park Slopians don’t seem to mind marijuana much. David, a young African-American man who works in the area and smokes, believes, “It’s a victimless crime. I feel like law enforcement wastes a lot of time and resources on catching people smoking weed…Jail record [and] drug charges add up later down the line. People don’t need that.” Tom, a single, white working man in his thirties, who doesn’t smoke marijuana, believes there’s a double-standard, “If they’re gonna make alcohol legal, marijuana should be legal. Nobody smokes marijuana and goes home and beats their wife.” Jenny, a white mother who has lived here for over twenty years, and smokes occasionally, went even further, “If you commit a crime while using a drug, that’s different, but if it’s only drug use, then I say decriminalize all drugs.”

What would happen to Park Slope if marijuana were decriminalized or even legalized? How would the community change? Would the now-free 115 non-violent offenders consume all the Tasti D-Lite on Ninth Street and Seventh Avenue? Would they start a naked drum circle in front of the YMCA? Would they hallucinate that swarms of feral monk parakeets are flying overhead? (Actually feral monk parakeets do fly over Park Slope— there’s a colony of them that nest in Greenwood Cemetery).

Soffiyah Elijah, executive director of The Correctional Association Of New York and a Park Slope resident, states, “It costs about $56,000 a year to incarcerate someone.” That’s a lot of money when it comes to non-violent marijuana crimes. It costs approximately $1,479 to simply arrest a single low-level marijuana offense; this means if we were to legalize marijuana and let those 115 non-violent offenders go, over the next ten years Park Slope alone would see more than $1,700,000 returned to the community. This money could be used to build recreational centers, schools, parks, libraries, fix that pot hole on Fourth Avenue that nearly claimed my life, and all sorts of other uses. Police would be able to focus their time on violent crime, like, catching that perv who was sexually assaulting women or the guy who stole the wheel off my bike (I’m still pissed about that). The 115 non-violent offenders would be able to stay with their families and continue to serve the community by working, instead of costing us taxpayer dollars.

Hector, a Hispanic father who has lived in the neighborhood for years, has been fined a number of times for marijuana possession and was also locked up for five days. After being stopped-and-frisked, the cops ordered him to empty his pockets. When he produced a small bag of weed, they arrested him. Hector explained, “When you get to the precinct and you ask [other inmates] what you here for, what you here for? [They say] weed weed weed weed.” Personally I’d rather see more violent criminals in the cells rather than pacifists with bad short-term memories. It seems that far too much attention is being given to people minding their own business, than those who are real menaces to society.

New York is falling behind in the marijuana movement. We are surrounded by states that have legalized it for medicinal use, including New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Delaware and Maine. Even if we legalized it just for medicinal purposes, those 115 non-violent offenders could open up medicinal dispensaries that would be regulated, taxed, and provide jobs and money to the community. We would benefit from their services.

There are people who say these 115 non-violent offenders should continue to be arrested. They argue that weed makes you lazy and stupid and that all you’ll do is play video games. (All I do is play video games when I’m sober too…) Michael R. Long, chairman of the NY State Conservative Party, posited that decriminalization could lead to the increased use in children.  at is actually not true. As reported by KPVI News 6, according to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, “Teens between the ages of twelve and seventeen say it’s easier to get marijuana than buy cigarettes, beer or prescription drugs.” Regulating marijuana and making it legal for those twenty-one and older is the best way to keep it out of the hands of kids. Laura, a white Park Slope mother of a two-year-old daughter, is still worried, “I think that parents are worried it’s a gateway drug, because eventually you will get bored with the high of marijuana and a lot of people will go onto another substance.” Again, not true. Gateway theory, as it’s known, is a widely fabricated belief.  The 2006 University Of Pittsburgh, the 1999 US National Academy Of Science’s Institute of Medicine, and the data compiled by the National Household Survey On Drug Abuse found no evidence that marijuana use led directly to the use of harder drugs.  The 115 non-violent offenders aren’t necessarily interested in taking bumps of cocaine in the bathroom stalls at a Black Keys concert. For many of them, a joint, a three-quarter pound Delirious Burger from Cheeburger Cheeburger, and a four-hour romp through Medal Of Honor are all that interests them.

As Bob Dylan sang, “The times they are a-changin.”  The legalization movement has picked up a lot of steam and we may see some changes to the marijuana laws in the next couple of years.

Whether you are for the legalization of marijuana or the continued prohibition of marijuana, we would like to hear from you. Please comment on whether you are for it or against it.