Hawkins Supports Medical Marijuana but Calls for Overall Legalization

Howie Hawkins, the Green Party candidate for Governor, joined in an Oct. 29th press conference with the NY Cannabis Alliance  to support the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes.

Hawkins said it was absurd that there was even any debate over whether to allow doctors to prescribe marijuana to sick patients who need it. Marijuana can be a safe and effective treatment for the symptoms of cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis, pain, glaucoma, epilepsy, and other conditions. This is supported by dozens of peer-reviewed studies, prominent medical organizations, major government reports, and the use of marijuana as medicine throughout world history.

Both Cuomo and Paladino oppose legalizing medical marijuana.

Hawkins, who was represented at the Capitol press conference by Green Party state Co-Chair Peter LaVenia, would go further and legalize general marijuana use, treating it as we do alcohol or tobacco.

”Drug use should be handled as a public health issue, not one of crime. It is time to legalize, regulate, and tax so-called recreational drugs. The European countries that have tried this approach have virtually eliminated drug-related crimes and reduced the population of drug users," said Hawkins.

"This country has had almost a century of drug prohibition, four decades of the war on drugs, yet there are more drugs at cheaper prices on our streets than ever before and we have spent hundreds of billions of dollars on interdiction alone. Those who insist on a continuation of 21st century Prohibition are agreeing that both production and distribution of drugs be left in control of criminals, funding terrorists and cartels such as those fueling the drug violence in Mexico," added Hawkins.

"Drug policy reform is an issue of racial justice as much as criminal justice because drug law enforcement has clearly targeted low-income black and Latino communities. When Andrew Cuomo went to Harlem to scare progressives back into his fold by talking about Carl Paladino's extreme views on abortion, Cuomo said nothing about racial profiling, an issue that is actually in play in the state legislature and a major grievance for blacks and Latinos. Cuomo has not investigated this problem as Attorney General, even though 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care urged him to do so last February. Police data showed that a record 575,304 people - 87% of them black or Latino - were stopped and questioned by New York City police officers in 2009. Only 6% of those stopped were arrested," Hawkins continued.

Hawkins said that a side benefit of legalizing marijuana is that taxing it, like we do with alcohol and tobacco, would help reduce the state budget deficit. The proposed 30% sales tax on marijuana in California would bring in an estimated $1.4 billion. It would also save the state funds by reducing criminal justice costs. The ballot initiative  would legalize personal possession and growth statewide, while allowing counties to individually legalize commercial sales.

"The 'war on drugs' has turned into a war on young people, the poor, and African Americans, Latinos, and other people of color. The Democratic and Republican parties ignore the human and economic devastation in many communities caused by the war on drugs. Instead, the two major parties posture about law and order and endorse failed measures, wasting tax dollars, ruining lives and increasing violence in our neighborhoods. We need to stop spending $50 billion a year nationally on the drug war, and use that money for treatment and rebuilding poor communities of color," said Hawkins.

A study by the American Civil Liberties Union ("Cracks in the System: Twenty Years of Unjust Federal Crack Cocaine Law," October 2006) found that 37% of people arrested, 59% of people convicted, and 74% of those sent to prison are African American, even though only 15% of drug users are African American.

Enforcing existing marijuana laws costs taxpayers $10 billion annually, with 734,000 individuals arrested nationwide per year -- far more than the total number of arrestees for all violent crimes combined, including murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault. Marijuana arrests have more than doubled since 1991, while adult use of the drug has remained stable. Marijuana violations constitute the fifth most common criminal offense in the U.S. Almost 90 percent of these arrests are for marijuana possession only.  60,000 individuals are behind bars for marijuana offenses at a cost to taxpayers of $1.2 billion per year.

Former President Jimmy Carter told Congress in 1977, that: "Penalties against drug use should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself. Nowhere is this more clear than in the laws against the possession of marijuana in private for personal use."

Marijuana is the third most popular recreational drug in America (behind only alcohol and tobacco), having been used by nearly 80 million Americans.  It is significantly less dangerous than alcohol or tobacco. 50,000 people die each year from alcohol poisoning, with more than 400,000 deaths each year are attributed to tobacco smoking. By comparison, marijuana is nonaddicting, nontoxic and cannot cause death by overdose.

The 1999 federally commissioned report by the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine found that "Except for the harms associated with smoking, the adverse effects of marijuana use are within the range tolerated for other medications." The European medical journal, The Lancet, stated that "The smoking of cannabis, even long-term, is not harmful to health. ... It would be reasonable to judge cannabis as less of a threat ... than alcohol or tobacco.”

Government studies conclude that marijuana decriminalization has not increased marijuana use. In addition, stricter enforcement of laws against marijuana use has no impact on the use of marijuana. As with alcohol, driving or operating heavy equipment while impaired from marijuana should be prohibited.

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