Due to a quirk in the law, New York State minors aren’t getting the help they need.
If I drove in my car as a 17-year-old high as a kite and got stopped by a police officer, the officer would not be able to prove that I was high. If an officer suspected that I had been drinking and driving but I refused to take a breathalyzer test, my license could be suspended. But there’s no equivalent road test admissible in court that can determine whether I had been driving while impaired by THC.
Unless I agreed to take a blood test, which is not required (for good reason), or unless the officer found actual marijuana in my possession, I would not receive an appearance ticket. In fact, unless the officer found an entire pound of marijuana in my possession, I would not be arrested. Even weirder, as someone under 21, if I had less than three ounces of weed, the officer wouldn’t even be able to confiscate it.
That means that my Onteora High School principal, Lance Edelman, a man who very much does confiscate pot from people on school grounds, has more power than any police officer.
The laws regarding marijuana possession don’t address charges for people with less than three ounces if they are under 21 years of age. There is no clear definition of what agencies enforce.
Here’s where things get tricky for me. I am not in favor of my peers being jailed or given harsh punishment. I am all for decreasing the presence of policing in schools and targeting minors. However, I don’t think the leniency in New York State’s vague current laws is a good thing. It’s an escape hatch, not a conscious, researched, and thought-through act of legislation that accounts for every possible outcome.
It appears to me that our state legislators have been shrugging off an important duty that they took an oath to uphold. It telegraphs to me personally that New York State was just rushing to legalize marijuana for the revenue boost and the news headlines it would bring. It is significant that neither the public-health nor the law-enforcement communities think that the law was well thought out in terms of safety risks and enforcement.
Smoking it up in the Sixties and Seventies didn’t involve the same stuff that’s being used today. Then, THC levels in weed were around one to three percent. Today, it’s up to 23 percent, with vape-pen devices that can have potencies from 50 percent to 95 percent. These devices deliver strong hits with little to no discomfort, making it easier than ever unconsciously to outdo oneself. And many of my peers have.
I don’t buy into the idea that marijuana is a gateway drug, but there’s some truth to the thinking behind it. As you start smoking more and smoking more often, your tolerance gets higher and higher. It takes a much larger amount of marijuana to get you to the same place you used to be able to get to after just a few hits.
After that, you can either choose to take a tolerance break from smoking, or seek out a better high in other substances. Given teenagers’ inclination towards instant gratification, other substances are a popular choice, making the enforcement aspect of underage possession even more important.
I appreciate that the legislation may have been an attempt to ensure security against overreach by the police of marginalized members of the population, more specifically people of color. There were more effective ways of achieving that aim. I think it’s logical to assume that a cop who would brutalize a person of color due to marijuana use won’t stop to check to see whether the kid is 21 in the first place.
In practice, the state has created a situation where marijuana users under the age of 21 are less likely to receive the help they need, which doesn’t serve any purpose other than to nourish the state’s revenue stream.
Big Tobacco remains an ever-constant influence. Since the master tobacco settlement agreement in 1998, it’s been accepted that the tobacco companies are seeking to target new young smokers. Big tobacco has a notorious record of finding loopholes to get around restrictions, and it has been a major investor in major cannabis corporations. These corporations follow the same playbook as the tobacco companies. They are more than willing to take full advantage of purposefully vague and poorly drawn legislation involving marijuana.
Another issue is that the law allows licenses for dispensaries and smoking lounges. A lot of stores are selling THC products without a license, and there are no clear lines of authority or enforcement to deal with these violations. As for smoking lounges, in many areas, namely ones with comprehensive public transportation systems, all seems fine. The problem arises with more rural areas like the Hudson Valley, where having a car is an integral part of life. A majority of people over the age of 21 either own or have access to a car. People will most likely be driving to the dispensary, buying their weed, smoking it in the lounge, and driving home totally impaired.
Which brings us back to the original issue.
It’s crazy to think that the people who know enough to be speaking on the issue, the police, are in a bind. If they make too big of a fuss about it being basically fine for kids to get caught, all that’ll do is encourage more minors to start smoking with less caution. And maybe this article will do the same thing if my peers read it.
The point is that our laws shouldn’t be effective solely on the condition that they stay under the radar. Transparency between lawmakers and constituents should be valued and encouraged.