The fight to legalize marijuana continued Saturday, as lawmakers and members of the community came together for a workshop to discuss its benefits. The workshop was held in the Empire State Plaza Convention Center and activist/former talk show host Montel Williams was the guest speaker.
A part of the New York Association of Black and Puerto Rican Legislators Conference, the workshop focused on how legalizing marijuana could help reduce the mass incarceration and opioid problems in our state and even the country.
So far recreational marijuana is legal in nine states and Washington, D.C. Could New York be next?
That’s what many people are hoping and was the focus of Saturday’s workshop was in Albany.
Montel Williams is an example of someone who has benefited from marijuana use.
“If I stop here right now and concentrate, it’d be right here,” Williams said. “When I say pain I have extreme neuropathic pain in my feet that feels like somebody is taking a hot poker and just shoving it right up the bottom of that bone and cracking it off.”
Having multiple sclerosis, he says the drug is the only way he can get through the pain. He’s found that it’s the only way he can get through it, by using marijuana.
“Take a big hit of what I got and it goes right away,” Williams said.
The drug changed his life and now he’s advocating for it’s legalization.
But, he feels this drug can do much more than help people medically and that it needs to treated and regulated like alcohol.
“We have to say enough is enough,” Williams said. “I just said alcohol. I said opioids. I said marijuana. Not one death in the history of the world, not one death from cannabis use,”
Currently state lawmakers have proposed a bill that would legalize marijuana by taxing and regulating it like we do alcohol. Williams and these lawmakers say legalizing marijuana has benefits beyond just medical.
They’re hoping to get it passed this year.
Research shows states with legal marijuana laws are seeing booming economies and drastic drops in opioid overdose deaths; as well as in arrests and court costs.
“It’s about you know stopping incarcerating people for small amounts of marijuana,” said Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes (Buffalo – D).
It’s also about helping communities that have been disenfranchised by the war on drugs for Assemblywoman Peoples-Stokes.
“The majority of people who smoke marijuana in America are white, yet the majority of people who have been incarcerated for marijuana in America are people of color,” Peoples-Stokes said.
She is cosponsoring a bill with multiple lawmakers including NYS Senator Velmanette Montgomery that would tax and regulate marijuana in New York as is done with alcohol. Each legislator believes there’s no time to wait.
For people like Montel Williams, marijuana has been a godsend.
“Adults have a right to make a decision about what they are capable of doing or not doing,” Williams said.
While the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) says there’s never been a reported death from overdosing on marijuana, critics of legalization say it can cause permanent brain damage, lead to crime and violence or cause additional health problems like cancer.