In New York City, marijuana is everywhere. Its skunky scent is impossible to miss and is one of the hallmark smells of the city. Because marijuana is so commonly used by NYU students, it is it is easy to forget that it is still illegal in New York in compliance with federal law. With its rampant and normalized usage by students and New York City residents alike, one might wonder what is stopping marijuana from being legalized here in New York.
On April 24, a group of seven students from NYU’s chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy traveled to the state capital of Albany to lobby for the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, a bill that if passed, will legalize cannabis use for those 18 years and older in New York. Steinhardt senior Alexander Lekhtman, the president of NYU’s chapter of SSDP, led the trip.
“The focus of Students for Sensible Drug Policy is broad — we ultimately focus on promoting progressive drug policy reform — whether it is at the school, city, state or federal level,” Lekhtman said. “The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act was introduced in the previous legislative session, and was re-introduced recently, which is why we went to lobby for it. Currently, the bill is sponsored by senator Liz Krueger, who is a state senator here on the east side of Manhattan.”
Lekhtman and the other students had meetings with senators and assembly members and presented detailed arguments and evidence in support of the bill.
“Throughout the day we had 13 different meetings with 12 senators and one assembly member from around the state, some from Albany, Buffalo, Westchester and a few from around New York City,” Lekhtman said.
While the bill certainly has the potential to ruffle the feathers of those whose political opinions are more conservative, Lekhtman said that many of the senators and assembly members they met with were open and receptive to hearing the details of the bill.
“The response was positive and constructive, with almost all of the senators very eager to hear our arguments, to listen to our evidence and hear why we think this is important,” Lekhtman said. “They let us explain the different provisions of the legislation, which provisions we emphasized and which provisions we wanted to have improved. So overall, I think they were very receptive.”
Although the group met with predominantly Democratic representatives, the Republicans that they spoke with also were receptive to their ideas. Lekhtman said he is personally more concerned with the social justice benefits of passing the bill.
“I’d like to see cannabis legalized so that we’re not arresting people anymore, we’re not putting people in jail, we’re not saddling people with criminal histories,” Lekhtman said, “because the evidence and the data we have show that drug prohibition and cannabis prohibition, in particular, place the burden disproportionately on people of color and low income communities.”
While Lekhtman said that the social justice benefits are very important, he also emphasized that the economic and financial benefits are equally as important. Through the potential increases in tax revenue generated by a legal adult use market in New York, social programs such as health care, education, or hospitals could receive greater funding.
“I think the angle that we’re trying to emphasize is the economic benefit of this legislation,” Lekhtman said. “The state will also save money by the simple fact that law enforcement won’t have to prosecute cannabis offenses anymore, or incarcerate people for it. Purely from a financial standpoint, there are a lot of benefits to this legislation.”
Additionally, if this bill is passed, NYU students over 18 will be afforded the freedoms of regulated marijuana use, with one caveat.
“NYU is an institution that receives money from the federal government, and therefore has to comply with federal laws,” Lekhtman said. “If this law passes and we have an adult use market in New York, students will most likely not be able to enjoy the benefits in their dorms.”
Email Thomas Chou at [email protected]