This Saturday is the first Saturday in May and therefore the date of the annual NYC Cannabis Parade (known over the past four decades as “the Pot Parade,” “May Day is Jay Day,” “Rally to End the Drug War,” “the Million Marijuana March,” and “the Global Marijuana March” among identities).
The event site explains the history of the event and states the message – the time has come for New York to get on the right side of history and adopt progressive cannabis policies. Ending cannabis prohibition is a no-brainer. Medical use is obvious. General adult use is more complicated but can be accomplished if there is a genuine will to do so instead of bad faith obstructionism.
Prohibition (i.e. criminalization) of the cannabis market is a building block for prohibition as a whole, making it very valuable, since drug prohibition yields a high return as a formula for maintaining social control. It yields a permanent state of crisis, creating a black market that can fund both secret operations of intelligence agencies and insurgent armies while also simultaneously justifying domestic militarization featuring ubiquitous surveillance (even of bodily fluids), no-knock entry into private residences, and huge prisoner of war camps for participants in the market. It is a formula for eternal war … viewed from the paradigm of “substance substitution.” That paradigm posits that humans, as sensation-seeking beings, tend to seek sensation in a variety of forms, such as stimulation, sedation and other variations in mood and perception, and the factor that determines what sensations, moods and perceptions are prevalent (in the absence of some seriously strong and change-resistant social norm against drug use – a norm absent from this society) is which psychoactive substances are prevalent. No matter what social controls are used, the vast majority of people use and will continue to use some psychoactive or dependence-inducing substance – coffee, tea, alcohol, tobacco, cannabis, meth, coke, heroin, LSD, MDMA, high fructose corn syrup and so on. The government can make cannabis legally available in the free market and allow consumers to pick a safer alternative to substances that are actually toxic or the government can ban cannabis, eliminate that safer alternative – and surprise! (not) – create a crisis in public health and public safety. One of the protests against the Reagan War on Drugs was the theory that eliminating cannabis made way for crack. (I don’t have the citation handy but the Village Voice published a piece in the mid-80’s called “How the Drug War Created Crack” on this subject.) Ban a legal market for cannabis in the name of public safety, create a public safety debacle, and then invoke the debacle as justification for prohibition. A guaranteed cycle of violence. How convenient for social control addicts.
I believe that if social policy (as expressed in law) were to make cannabis available legally there would be a reduction in alcohol and tobacco consumption as consumers switch to a substance that doubles as a food and an incense, cannot kill you and does not cause a hangover. It is a question of market share changing in the presence of a newly regulated product. For all you law students, I suggest that somewhere in cannabis prohibition is a legal theory supporting an antitrust/restraint of trade action against the federal government for conspiring with the alcohol, tobacco and pharmaceutical industries – by criminalizing a competing industry.
Cannabis prohibition and drugs generally are no longer cutting-edge national security crises now so it is ironic and intriguing that New York State remains in the grip of a retrograde and stunningly inane policy for regulating the cannabis market (using criminal law to regulate the market instead of civil law). As the surrounding states fall like dominoes to the spread of more progressive cannabis laws (legalizing a market for a population limited to those consumers with physician referrals), the Gottfried-Savino medical cannabis bill stays pinned down in the State Senate – held hostage by a small clique of senators from Long Island. The Governor also opposes the idea of a medical cannabis law. We are not talking about legalization for general adult use; we are talking about a medical use bill that does not allow for individual cultivation and requires that anyone attempting to enter the market be approved by the Department of Health upon a written application. It is a staid, conservative piece of legislation that in today’s climate of reform activity and the meltdown in the global prohibitionist regime is as radical as pancakes with maple syrup on a Sunday morning.
It is even more ironic that to date this City has not exerted countervailing influence on the state legislature since New York City is usually at the cutting edge of progressive social policies. Although the City Council supports the medical cannabis law, the Mayor opposes it, as discussed in previous posts (e.g. “Bloomberg and Brennan Come Out Against NY Medical Marijuana Law” and “The City Council Hearing“). The Mayor and his executive branch agencies, namely the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the Special Narcotics Prosecutor’s Office, spout egregiously formulaic and dishonest disinformation that can only come out of a DEA briefing manual on “how to argue against legalization.” They claim that a highly-restricted cannabis market (medical patients only) is impossible to implement safely and cite Los Angeles as an example that is being destroyed by dispensaries notwithstanding the utter irrelevance of the California medical cannabis experience to the tame regulatory system proposed for New York. They do not explain why after almost two decades of a legal medical cannabis market California has not fallen into the sea and after a decade plus Colorado is not a smoking crater.
They do not explain because …. no one challenges them. Not the press, not the City Council, not the substantial business interests here. No one demands that they demonstrate that there is some rational basis for their positions and that they are not simply reciting the DEA’s Newspeak – no one but a handful of advocacy organizations demanding progressive policy on cannabis in the City of New York.
The message that cannabis law change is a critical intervention with immense consequences for society is spreading far and wide around the world but this revolution in consciousness has not yet occurred in New York, a city that is arguably (still) the capital of the world. The zillion dollar question is when will the populace realize the power it holds in its hands, rise up and demand change.
The goal of the Cannabis Parade and the gathering in Union Square is to demonstrate that the populace is ready for rational drug policy. If you are in New York City and are ready for the prison walls to fall, come to Union Square at 1 pm on May 4 and be counted. A revolution in consciousness does not happen on its own. Bring the revolution in consciousness to the streets of the world capital, New York City.