Activists Fear Legal Weed in NJ Might Increase Criminalization in NY

Kirssy Arroyo (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

As New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy continues to ferociously promote the legalization of marijuana in the Garden State as a way to reduce the number of inmates for consuming it and to generate some $300 million in tax revenue (…), concern grows on the other side of the Lincoln Tunnel.

Residents, activists and political leaders in the Big Apple, even those who sympathize with legalization, say that the the neighboring state decision would open the door for more New Yorkers to buy weed just a few minutes outside of Manhattan, and cause an increase in the criminalization of Hispanics and Black people in the five boroughs.

“It is obvious that we will see more consumption in New York streets. The problem is that, with the laws penalizing marijuana we have here, more youths will end up thrown into the criminal justice system and the already existing black market may even expand,” said Puerto Rican-born Sonia Jackson, a marijuana advocate who asked Albany to also approve legalization in order to be on the same page as our neighbors and prevent “unnecessary chaos and attacks.”

Analysts say that giving free range to marijuana shops in New Jersey would cause transportation systems connecting the two states – such as the Port Authority Bus Terminal, Penn Station, the PATH and the six interstate bridges – to serve as routes for New York customers. They also fear that these agencies may have to end up allocating resources they lack to set up checkpoints to stop the transit of weed.

“Due to the state’s hesitation to implement reform, the effects of the decisions made in neighboring states like New Jersey will make it harder for New York to handle any kind of impact our laws aim to have,” said Rafael Espinal, a member of the New York City Council’s leadership team, who once again encouraged state politicians to take action to pass the bill introduced by state Sen. Liz Krueger to legalize marijuana in New York.

“I think the reason why New York residents have a problem with this is the lack of answers regarding their concerns about quality of life, a black market and the awareness of our state government,” said Espinal. “The state of New York is far behind in the conversation regarding the legalization of marijuana, and the best way to deal with the quality of life concerns surrounding smoking marijuana in our communities is to legalize, tax and regulate the substance.”

Sen. Krueger also mentioned that one of the effects of passing the law on marijuana consumption in New Jersey is that New York would see resources slip away.

“We are missing out on all that revenue,” said the politician, the main promoter of legalizing weed in New York, adding that failing to take action jeopardizes economic and social justice, the protection of youths and a rational view of marijuana.

Criminalization of minorities

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson shared the concerns about the law’s negative impact on minorities, reiterating that New York should lead the way in total legalization for a number of reasons (…)

“[Passing this bill] would eliminate the black market and the enforcement of laws biased against communities of color, while generating revenue and creating jobs. Studies have not shown that more kids get hooked due to legalization,” said Johnson.

In light of the potential effects that turning New Jersey into a “green state” may have on the enforcement of laws against marijuana in New York, the NYPD has clearly stated that their officers will not take a softer line.

“Regardless of what the law is in any other state, the NYPD will continue to enforce New York law regarding the use of marijuana in public and the operation of motor vehicles under its influence,” said the department.

Dominican-born Kirssy Arroyo, who commutes between New York and New Jersey on the PATH everyday to go to her housecleaning job, said that she does not believe the legalization of marijuana in the Garden State would increase consumption or crime in the Big Apple, but she did express concern about the possibility that New York’s delay may lead to more youths paying the consequences.

“Marijuana is like rum, and kids are going to get high anyway… Instead of being afraid, I think it is time for New Yorkers to care for young people and stop singling them out as criminals just because they are enjoying themselves,” said Arroyo.

Although he does not smoke marijuana, Juan Pérez, 20, pointed out that whatever happens in New Jersey will undoubtedly have repercussions in New York but believes that they will be positive. “I think that, in the end, it will lead New York to approve it too and stop lagging behind. People are free to smoke or not. It shouldn’t be a crime,” said the New York resident.

Juan Pérez (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

Marijuana has also become a hot button issue in New York’s gubernatorial campaign. Democratic candidate Cynthia Nixon favors legalization and has criticized state legislators and Gov. Andrew Cuomo for their lack of will to act on a topic that is increasingly gaining more sympathizers.


Even Public Advocate Letitia James, who has expressed her support for legalization, said that, as other states progress in their discussion, New York can no longer ignore the inadequacy of its current laws governing marijuana. “Legalizing marijuana would make our justice system fairer and give a significant boost to our economy,” said James. (…)

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