I was the program director at ENTER INC, a drug and alcohol-free rehabilitation program and worked at Hotline Cares, a crisis intervention program, both located in East Harlem, El Barrio for a combined 10 years during the heroin and crack crises. In my work I learned from clients that seven out of ten started on drugs as teens and “graduated” to heroin, cocaine, and crack. Yes, seven out of ten addicted to these substances spoke how they got high on marijuana which lost its effect in a relatively short period of time, so they moved on to heavier drugs.
There are two arguments in favor of legalization you have heard repeatedly. One is the evil of discriminatory law enforcement over decades. The War on Drugs and the Rockefeller Drug laws particularly in New York State put many minority people behind bars and spoiled reputations for opportunities in life afterwards. This is a valid argument. This did happen. While Wall Street execs and many other whites in a host of industries in the entertainment field and its allied industries never were arrested, sentenced, and put behind bars, many in the minority community were. Law enforcement was corrupted into arresting the most vulnerable while giving passes to the economically better off. The cure is not making recreational marijuana legal but addressing the inequality of law enforcement.
The second argument now is to allow more dispensaries to be owned and managed by minority vendors. Let’s look at the past. When we lived in a segregated society African Americans owned more stores and businesses than they own today. As terrible as it was, it gave economic independence to entrepreneurs in the community. Once these barriers broke down, we saw white and wealthy businessmen recruit the successful minority businesspersons into their businesses. Will not the tobacco kings such as RJ Reynolds, Phillip Morris, Liggett and Myers and others build the factories, buy up the cannabis, sell to these new businesses initially and take them over later?
To think by setting the age at 21 that it will deter teens from getting the “weed” is pure naiveté. Let’s look at the e-cigarette and the wide use of it by teens leading to their health being compromised. How will advertising and promotion be handled? We know through many studies as the human brain grows and develops among teens and young adults, marijuana causes irreparable damage. We will see many gifted children compromised in their natural and intellectual abilities from ever reaching their full intellectual and artistic development. Are legislators willing to take responsibility for overdoses and rises in suicide, lung cancer and brain damage for more money? Stop and think about it. It will cost taxpayers and this state much more down the road.
If it is all about the state’s debt, if it is all about money and that is the reason lawmakers have supported this bill, they should think again. The costs far outweigh the long-term benefits. Human life and the quality of human life should be their first concerns. If they want to make the state budget balanced and more equitable, they don’t have to tax the rich, just take away their loopholes. Tax abatements for developers alone called 421a in NYC allow co-op, condo, and real estate interests to not pay taxes on these homes. That results in NYC not getting 1.5 billion a year in taxes. This is only one example. To balance the budget, NYS should take away abatements and credits the rich enjoy.
Gerard Frohnhoefer, MA, MTh.
retired sociology adjunct professor
CUNY (LaGuardia and Queensborough Community Colleges)