New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio reiterated his fears of corporate marijuana last week on the city’s public radio station.
In the midst of a massive renaissance on the New York political scene — with the state’s U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer announcing his plan to make major marijuana reforms at the federal level, state leaders discussing racial injustices in cannabis policing and the state Democratic party considering a legalization endorsement this week at their convention — De Blasio pushed a “save the children from corporate pot” approach to keeping marijuana illegal in New York.
“My great fear, I’ve said it before, is the corporatization of the marijuana industry,” de Blasio told listeners of WNYC radio, according to the New York Post.
De Blasio went on to state his belief that the marijuana industry will mirror that of the tobacco of the 1970s. He thinks cannabis companies will operate “with the goal of trying to hook as many young people as possible on marijuana for the profit of those companies.”
Erik Altieri, the executive director of NORML, responded strongly against de Blasio’s rhetoric.
“Mayor de Blasio should be less concerned about the corporatization of cannabis and more concerned that his police department arrests well over 16,000 citizens a year, mostly people of color, for simple marijuana possession,” Altieri told Cannabis Now in an email.
Altieri noted that de Blasio promised voters during his first campaign that he would quickly address the issue of cannabis legalization, but no progress has been made.
“Instead of hemming and hawing over a hypothetical put forth by prohibitionists, and one that falls flat in face of the evidence coming out of other states that have already legalized marijuana, he needs to address this draconian and racist policy in effect in his city that is currently ruining the lives of thousands of his city’s residents and tearing apart their families for just possessing a substance objectively safer than currently regulated alcohol and tobacco,” Altieri noted.
The advocates at the Marijuana Policy Project also challenged de Blasio’s focus on cannabis corporatization, noting that legalizing the plant would give the state power to regulate its industry.
“It is much easier to address public health and safety concerns when a product is being produced and sold within a controlled system of businesses, as opposed to an entirely uncontrolled illegal market,” MPP Spokesman Mason Tvert told Cannabis Now.
According to Tvert, by regulating marijuana, state and local governments can determine what types of businesses are appropriate and what rules they should follow.
Those rules could immediately address de Blasio’s concerns while ending the criminalization of thousands of New Yorkers annually.
“Different communities will experiment with different approaches, just as they have done with alcohol, to develop the systems that work best for them,” said Tvert. “The states that have opted to end marijuana prohibition have adopted a wide variety of regulations, including marketing and advertising restrictions and prohibitions on combining marijuana with tobacco or other potentially addictive additives.”
Morgan Fox, media director for the National Cannabis Industry Association, also weighed in on de Blasio’s comments.
“The fears that de Blasio has are all characteristic of the illicit market, not the legal and responsible cannabis industry that has established itself in states with rational marijuana laws,” Fox told Cannabis Now. “In addition to being one of the most heavily regulated industries, cannabis businesses tend to be even more self-regulating than many others and hold themselves, and each other, to very high standards.”
Fox says de Blasio’s fears are certainly no reason to keep punishing adults for using a substance that is safer than alcohol, and if the mayor is truly concerned, “he should be pushing to regulate marijuana now with provisions that help small businesses and keep barriers to entry into the industry as low as possible.”
Apart from the industrial aspects of legalization, New York City is still handling the New York Times’ recent report on the data showing just how disproportionately communities of color continue to be targeted in the city. That report seemed like another annual reminder on the issue. To de Blasio’s credit, even though he is anti-legalization, he is not using this position as a means to sweep the real policing issues happening under the rug.
“I don’t expect in any way, or accept in any way, disparity in policing,” de Blasio told WNYC host Brian Lehrer. “If there is a dynamic where enforcement is different, neighborhood by neighborhood, because of demographics, we’ve got to fix that, we’ve got to figure out a way forward.”
There were 17,880 arrests for low-level marijuana possession in New York City in 2017, according to Politico.
TELL US, are you against corporate cannabis? Does that make you oppose cannabis legalization?