Big Marijuana’s big Black Lives Matter problem

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Big Marijuana’s big Black Lives Matter problem

Six years before George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, Eric Garner was choked to death by New York City law enforcement. Garner repeated his last words, “I can’t breathe,” 11 times before he lost consciousness. His killing was one of the early inspirations for the Black Lives Matter movement that exploded in cities across the country after the video of Floyd’s death went viral on social media.

It is often forgotten due to the brutality of his death, but Garner was first approached because he was selling “loosies” (single cigarettes) without charging the state’s tobacco tax — a violation of New York state law. If the state of New York didn’t have such a ludicrously high tax ($6 a pack) on cigarettes, Garner would never have been on that street corner selling “loosies” to begin with.

This history is suddenly relevant again as New York City struggles to decide how to enforce the state’s new regulated cannabis market. Since the state legalized marijuana in 2021, there has been an explosion of unlicensed marijuana stores throughout the city. But now that the state’s legal and regulated marijuana industry is about to come online, people are wondering how (or even whether) the police will crack down on unlicensed sellers.

“Mayor Adams has been clear that no illegal business operations should be tolerated,” the mayor’s spokeswoman, Kayla Mamelak, told the New York Times. But Mayor Eric Adams himself has been less confident. Asked about cracking down on unlicensed marijuana sellers last month, he responded: “A police officer can’t just walk in and conduct an apprehension, or an arrest, or confiscate the item.”

And even if a shop owner or clerk is arrested after selling unlicensed cannabis, would any jury hand down a conviction? Would any prosecutor bother with the case?

New York City criminal defense attorney Lance Lazzaro doesn’t think so. “It’s marijuana. It’s not the crime of the century,” Lazarro told the New York Times, explaining that he has easily gotten unlicensed cannabis sales charges dismissed on clients’ behalf.

And that really is the big problem facing New York’s fledgling legal marijuana market. If the police, the mayor’s office, and juries aren’t willing to enforce the laws necessary to separate a legal marijuana market from an illegal one, then why does anyone think the legal market will survive?

© 2022 Washington Examiner

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