Pretty soon now, New Yorkers might well be banned from buying chocolate-flavored vape juice, but allowed to purchase marijuana chocolate bars, as well as weed brownies, weed gummy bears and weed hard candies. They might be able to consume the drugs (but not the flavoring for e-cigarettes) before legally wagering on football at upstate casinos. Sports betting is not proposed for downstate slot parlors, where customers will be able to play every high-stakes casino table game imaginable, as long as they are dealt by computers and not live humans, who are allowed to run games only at upstate casinos.
When the government does not make sense, people will not trust the government.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo recently announced a plan to ban sales of all flavored e-cigarettes in New York. It’s already illegal to sell e-cigarettes or vape juice to minors in the state. But many of the popular vaping flavors, like cotton candy, chocolate and caramel, are considered tools for attracting minors, and health advocates want them axed.
Cuomo also announced recently that he would push to legalize recreational marijuana in New York this year. If New York follows the path of the other 11 states that have legalized marijuana, products will include marijuana edibles like chocolate bars.
In addition, Cuomo is pushing for legal sports betting, but only through upstate casinos.
It’s nearly impossible to moderate vice via laws with any kind of consistency. There are two ways to create a consistent legal and philosophical framework for governing vices, and neither includes moderating them. You can ban a behavior like gambling, and justify it by saying the harm it does society in lives destroyed is too severe. You can allow a behavior like consuming mood- and mind-altering substances, and justify it by saying we are a free nation and people ought to do as they please as long as they don’t harm others.
The middle ground on these issues is a minefield of moral inconsistencies. But we find ourselves mired in that middle ground because we, as a society, want to balance freedom with safety and well-being. And that’s an eminently reasonable desire. As much as my inner libertarian quails at this, the argument that if light beer is legal, recreational fentanyl ought to be, too, while philosophically consistent, is truly nutso.
So with as much fairness and ideological consistency as possible, how can we do this difficult thing of governing vice without banning it?
The biggest thing would be stepping back to look at the issues holistically, rather than taking them on a tiny bit at a time.
What makes sense on gambling? The middle ground seems to be to let it be legal, but not omnipresent. Fine. Change the state constitution to legalize all gambling, and put limits on how many casinos can be sited by population.
What makes sense on tobacco and vaping products? The middle ground seems to be that they ought to be legal, but really hard for kids to get. OK, but that’s already the law, and it ought to also be considered in the context of consumption of other potentially dangerous substances. Banning peppermint vape juice while permitting peppermint schnapps and marijuana peppermints is foolish.
What makes sense on drugs beyond marijuana legalization? An open mind, mostly. We don’t need to legalize heroin, but if a safe place to use it and a clean supply would save addicts, I’m all for that.
The goal is a society where everyone is free to do as they wish, but wise, healthy, responsible and caring enough to do nothing damaging. Barring that, we can at least try to pass laws that make sense.
Lane Filler is a member of the Newsday editorial board.