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Saturday, June 29, 2024

Could Kamala Harris be a winner for the Democrats if Biden steps aside? | Democrats | The Guardian

Republicans use cannabis smell complaints as ‘excuse’ to oppose legalization, advocates say

"Norml argues lawmakers exaggerate scent complaints to support policies banning public use of marijuana

A worker inspects flowering cannabis plants
Florida governor Ron DeSantis has said he opposes a ballot measure to legalize recreational marijuana because of the smell. Photograph: Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Some Republican lawmakers, including Florida governor Ron DeSantis, say that the now-public consumption of marijuana is a nuisance to people who don’t like the smell and a quality-of-life issue.

Meanwhile, advocates of marijuana legalization argue that lawmakers are exaggerating the scale of the problem and using the smell issue as a smoke screen for their actual gripe: cannabis should not be legal.

Earlier this month, Mike, a 52-year-old maintenance worker, sat on a bench at Herbert Von King Park in Brooklyn, smoking a blunt.

“I’ve been doing it for so long, I don’t even smoke to get high,” said Mike, a Brooklyn native who has smoked since he was about 11 years old and declined to give his last name.

Perhaps only one thing about Mike’s marijuana consumption has changed in recent years: In 2021, New York approved adult use of cannabis, which has meant that, like in other states where it’s legal, he and others now smoke the drug openly.

Stroll down a sidewalk in many cities, and you just might catch a whiff of Acapulco Gold. (Or sometimes, on highways and in more rural areas, it really is just a skunk.)

“I enjoy being able to sit down and smoke outside, with the police walking by not saying anything. I don’t want to be someplace where there shouldn’t be any weed smoking, but you’re smoking it just because you can,” Mike said.

Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reformation of Marijuana Laws (Norml), says that the lawmakers “making the most noise” about people like Mike “are people who oppose changing marijuana policies to begin with, and they are just looking for a convenient excuse to support that position”.

In recent years, twenty-four states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational use of cannabis, and 14 others have approved it for medical use, according to the Pew Research Center.

Among the states that have legalized recreational use, New York is the only one that does not punish public usage, according to Norml.

“New York happens to be the media capital world, so this is a story that you hear about nationwide. Even though this is largely not even just a New York phenomenon, this is a New York City phenomenon,” Armentano said.

While people in other cities and states have mentioned – and in some cases, complained – about the marijuana smell, much of the attention appears to be focused on New York. A brief Google News search of “public”, “cannabis” and “smell”, yields a majority of stories concerning the Big Apple.

For New Yorkers, the smell may be the least of their problems when it comes to cannabis: implementation of its adult-use program has been widely hailed as “botched” and the governor herself even declared it a “disaster”.

Michael Novakhov, a Republican state assemblyman who represents parts of Brooklyn, said he has nothing against people consuming marijuana but has heard from constituents who don’t want their children exposed to it. Last year, he proposed legislation that would have prohibited the public use of cannabis unless approved by the local government. That and the state senate version did not make it out of committee.

Notably, many apartments in New York do not allow smoking or have balconies or patios. Novakhov said he would like to see people establish cannabis lounges like in other states.

The state has not issued any on-site consumption licenses because officials have not established regulations for such businesses, and they do not have a date by which they expect to do so, according to the Office of Cannabis Management.

“We have a great example in how people consume alcohol, which is bars, and I think [cannabis] should be in certain bars and places where people can buy and consume,” Novakhov said.

People can, of course, also consume alcohol at home, whereas that is more difficult with cannabis. Novakhov would like to see people who would illegally use cannabis in public fined, not arrested.

Norml also generally supports public cannabis consumption as “being a civil violation, very similar to the way alcohol is treated”, Armentano said.

In Florida, DeSantis has said he opposes a ballot measure to legalize recreational marijuana because of the smell and has claimed people would be “able to bring 20 joints to an elementary school”.

Armentano argues that since Florida already allows medical marijuana, little would change as far as public consumption.

He doesn’t think “you will see people smoking marijuana everywhere. If that was the case, that would be [happening] now in Florida.”

“Legalization didn’t create marijuana, and it certainly didn’t create the public use of marijuana,” he continued.

Still, Mike, the lifelong cannabis consumer, said he has always avoided smoking in front of kids because he knows he “was a guy who they were influenced by”.

Now, he sees people rolling joints and smoking on subways and near playgrounds.

“I like smoking weed,” he said, “but I’m turned off by the way some people are doing it”.

Could Kamala Harris be a winner for the Democrats if Biden steps aside? | Democrats | The Guardian

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