Those were questions addressed at a forum held on Thursday, February 9, by Councilman Daniel Dromm at the Jewish Center of Jackson Heights, 37-06 77th Street, to push for passage of a resolution supporting a bill that would legalize medicinal marijuana.
Dromm hopes to add New York to the list of 17 states where the use of medicinal marijuana is legalized. His resolution passed the Council Committee on Mental Health, Mental Retardation, Alcoholism, Drug Abuse and Disability Services on Monday, February 13. It will be voted on by the rest of the City Council in late February.
Dromm identified himself as a recovered alcoholic, sober for 21 years, and said he thinks of addiction as a matter of one's choice.
“Medical marijuana, and marijuana laws in general, is something that is very important to me, even though I am a person in recovery," he said. "Marijuana arrests should be something that concerns us all.
“I wasn’t an alcoholic because liquor was available, but because I liked to drink too much," Dromm added. "You are an addict or an alcoholic because you choose to [consume], not because of its availability."
But some terminally ill patients have no choice but to rely on medical marijuana to live comfortably, speakers at the meeting said.
“I have a friend who was dying in the 80s, she literally had to stand on the street corner to get the marijuana for her disease,” said Abby Drucker, a Queens resident. “People who want to smoke it for medicinal reasons should be able to do it. Personally I think all drugs should be legalized.
The other issue discussed at the meeting was a reported hike in arrests in the city for small possessions of marijuana. Speakers said excessive arrests negatively affect people's lives and cost taxpayers money.
Marijuana possession arrests, police patrols and stop-and-frisks cost taxpayers $150 million last year, according to the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA).
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly reported recently that police make too many arrests for possession of small amounts. In addition, it is reported that police make false arrests by convincing perpetrators to remove the substance from their pocket, and then arrest them for having it in the public view.
In addition, blacks and Hispanics account for nearly 86 percent of arrests for marijuana possession, while Caucasians account for less than 11 percent, despite the fact that young whites use marijuana at higher rates than young blacks and Hispanics, according to the DPA.
Gabriel Sayegh, director of the DPA, said a bill that will decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana and help eliminate illegal searches and false charges on behalf of the state is needed.
“The problem is that the police are mischarging people," Seyegh said. "They are finding marijuana in a pocket, but they are charging people for having it in public, and what the legislation is considering is a bill that would say it would be the same [charge] in a pocket or in public view.”
Dromm's resolution supports a bill that would standardize penalties for marijuana possession in New York.