Hispanic New Yorkers Divided Over Recreational Marijuana

María Tapia, from Mexico (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

Last week, after announcing a study to analyze the pros and cons of the recreational use of marijuana in the state, Gov. Andrew Cuomo left a small window open to the possibility that New York may one day join other parts of the country that allow the commercialization of weed.

However, after a few days of thinking about the leader’s announcement, some residents of the Big Apple, such as María Tapia, continue to disagree with the proposal (…) Tapia stressed that her position is not a matter of being “prudish” but of a concern for safety.

“Drugs are never good and, if they approve that, there will be more youths consuming it and putting people at risk… Crime will skyrocket even more, and in areas such as this one it is already very high,” said Mexican-born Tapia as she waited for her bus on Roosevelt Avenue and 77th Street in Jackson Heights, Queens.

Sergio Martínez, from Puerto Rico, shares this opinion (…), adding that his main concern is that consumers who do not have the money to buy weed may resort to committing criminal acts.

“If they approve this, it will be like opening yet another door to delinquency, because the day they don’t have enough [money] to smoke, they will start stealing, mugging and who knows what else… Having a vice is dangerous,” said Martínez.

Sergio Martínez, from Puerto Rico. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

 Still, organizations who have defended the legalization of marijuana, such as LatinoJustice, (…) argue that legalizing marijuana would indeed have a great impact on crime. Only it would be the opposite of what these residents predict.

“Legalizing it would have an enormous effect on safety, undoubtedly, because it would eliminate arrests, would eliminate fines, eliminate tickets, eliminate all run-ins with the police caused by the mere fact of possessing marijuana… It would be a positive effect for everyone,” said Juan Cartagena, president of LatinoJustice. “We do not have to fear a situation in which not having money will cause crime to go up because legalization would expand access to the plant – not just for medicinal use but also recreational – and the illicit market that exists today would be replaced by a legal, healthier, more reliable one while generating employment for our communities.”

(Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

Cartagena pointed out that the way the law deals with marijuana right now is discriminatory against people of color and that it sends many people who are not criminals to jail for consuming weed.

“More than 60,000 people have been arrested [since de Blasio has been in office], 85 percent of them Black and Latino. Under the current City Hall administration, more Hispanics have been arrested after the marijuana laws were strengthened than under any other administration: 39 percent,” said the activist.

A different attitude

Still, advocates of the work the current administration has done to decriminalize marijuana said that, through its criminal justice reform and other actions, New York has been showing a different attitude toward weed.

“Many years ago, if you had marijuana, you were a thug. Now, at least one feels a bit more respected, and they do not send you to jail right away,” said Alejandro Garcés, from Colombia. Garcés was caught smoking last August on a Manhattan street and was sent a summons instead of being detained. It was later dismissed.

Since November 2014, de Blasio and then-Police Commissioner William Bratton announced that people caught with up to 25 grams of concealed marijuana would not be arrested but pay a fine between $100 and $250.

Alyssa Aguilera, executive co-director of organization VOCAL-NY, said that the positions of many New Yorkers who demonize marijuana are made up and not based on reality.

“There is no credible evidence to support the assertion that legalizing marijuana would increase crime. States such as Washington and Colorado, which have had legal marijuana for years, have not seen an increase in crime,” said the activist, adding that the effects of legalization tend to be positive. “Instead of focusing on myths and fear tactics, we should focus on the proven consequences of the legalization of marijuana, such as reduction in incarcerations, job growth and revenue increase for local communities.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has expressed skepticism regarding recreational marijuana, said that although he hasn’t changed his position, he is willing to further analyze the issue, pointing out the examples of places where the consumption of weed has been authorized.

(…) “I don’t think we’re going to find that it’s an ideal situation but, at the same time, we need to see what’s working and what’s not so we can make an honest assessment,”  he said.

Kevin Jiménez, from Ecuador. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

Even though studies on recreational marijuana are just beginning at the state level, some youths, such as Kevin Jiménez, 18, are confident that New York will soon become a “green” state.

“It is time for them to approve this, and it would be good also so that they stop looking at people who do it as criminals. Marijuana is not going to increase crime, it will not wreak havoc, and it will make those who choose to use it happy. It is an act of freedom, and each [person] has to be responsible for their actions,” said the Ecuador native.

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One Comment

  1. Eric Jameson says:

    So Maria Tapia says “Drugs are never good.”

    Does this mean that sugar, caffeine, and tobacco should all be made illegal along with marijuana, since they are all drugs too?

    Her comments are an illustration of the lack of critical thinking and lack of logical consistency among those who think marijuana should be illegal.

    There is no factual reason to make marijuana illegal as it is no more dangerous than products which are not banned, such as alcohol and tobacco.

    The lack of critical thinking and lack of respect for people’s freedom to consume a non-harmful substance such as marijuana is disheartening.

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