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Legalizing pot simply makes sense

Marijuana plants in Hawaii are seen in Feb.

Marijuana plants in Hawaii are seen in Feb. 17, 2016. On Wednesday night, Nassau County lawmakers held hearing on the pros and cons of the statewide proposal to legalize recreational pot. Credit: AP/Marina Riker


As a retired member of the NYPD, I’ve endured good-natured ribbing from people asking where the police are when people need them. I always reply that officers do their best with the resources they’re provided. But in the back of my mind, it troubles me to think about the resources we waste arresting people on marijuana charges.

When I worked as a narcotics unit undercover officer, we apprehended many people for small amounts of marijuana, and our efforts were futile. People still use marijuana despite our best efforts to eliminate its use.

Legalizing and regulating marijuana makes sense, allowing law enforcement to focus its limited resources on crimes that hurt the community. Every day, dedicated police officers put themselves at risk to keep the public safe, but no amount of skill and commitment makes up for the capital we waste on marijuana cases.

In 2013, the Drug Policy Alliance estimated that the NYPD had spent more than one million hours on marijuana arrests from 2002 to 2012. Meanwhile, in America today, we solve only 64 percent of murder cases and 40 percent of rape cases, compared to 1972, when the war on drugs began, when we solved more than 90 percent of homicides.

Even with weed decriminalized in New York, the dangers of the criminal market still exist — profits are still funneled, untaxed and unmonitored, into illegal channels where that money is used to support violent criminal enterprises. Legalization will reduce violence and help bolster our economy because the prohibition of marijuana is the real gateway to crime and illegal drug use.

Keeping marijuana sales illegal ensures its profitability for criminals who use guns to solve their disputes instead of lawyers. Arresting users is pointless, and arresting dealers is never-ending; as soon as one is hauled away, 10 others are waiting to step in, often after violent confrontations where innocent bystanders are caught in the crossfire. Police can respond to these incidents only after the fact, which leaves them feeling powerless and discouraged.

Legalizing and regulating marijuana will allow us to set safety standards, as we do for any product we ingest, whether it’s Tylenol, tomatoes, or tequila. Legal, regulated marijuana is tested, labeled, and packaged in childproof containers. Regulations ensure that legitimate, taxpaying businesses sell the product only to adults 21 and older. In the illegal marketplace, no one gets carded — all that matters is that buyers have the money.

Some New Yorkers fear that legalization of marijuana may cause the loss of prison jobs, but very few people go to prison for marijuana. The marijuana industry creates jobs in warehousing, cash management, security, laboratory testing, legal services, engineering, and construction. In 2015, Colorado reported more than 18,000 full-time employees in the marijuana sector, including over 12,000 as direct employees in the industry and more than 5,400 in secondary fields.

Enabling law enforcement to devote their resources to protecting us requires marijuana legalization, as well as better funding of drug education, treatment, and prevention programs. “We Rise to Legalize,” a coalition advocating for a fair adult-use program, has called for re-entry programs for people affected by pre-legalization marijuana arrests, and better education programs for New York’s youth.

A majority of New Yorkers want to legalize, and I want to continue educating New Yorkers about why responsible regulation will benefit public safety and contribute toward a prosperous future for our state.

Legalizing marijuana is more than just common sense: it’s necessary!

 Joanne Naughton, a retired New York Police Department lieutenant, works with the Law Enforcement Action Partnership, a nonprofit that advances drug policy and public safety solutions.