STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — After years of failed attempts, adult-use recreational marijuana is now legal in New York state to the delight of many advocates and lawmakers, but not everybody believes legalization was a good decision.
Those who’ve been opposed to legalization have cited health and safety concerns, such as potential increase in the number of people driving while under the influence of marijuana, while others worry the cost of regulated marijuana and decrease in penalties for those selling on the street will cause illicit sales to rise.
Individuals with a history of substance misuse are also concerned — and opposed — to recreational marijuana legalization.
The Advance/SILive.com spoke with Staten Islanders who are in various stages of recovery programs about their history with marijuana and what they feel advocates of legalization may not have taken into consideration.
The three residents all said that marijuana was their gateway drug; they all began smoking in their early teens and had moved on to hard drugs in three years or less.
“It’s a gateway drug and you don’t see that until you’re standing in the gateway,” said Anthony, a 45-year-old who has been attending a long-term recovery program at Camelot.
‘IT WASN’T FUN ANYMORE’
Anthony began smoking marijuana at 15 and in less than 12 months he was dropping acid on a regular basis while continuing using marijuana. His parents gave him “the talk” about using drugs and what could happen before he ever tried marijuana.
“Society would say it’s bad for you, don’t use it, you’re not going to like it, but then you go outside, and your friends are having a ball. That’s why I picked it up,” Anthony said.
At rock bottom, Anthony was sniffing heroin, smoking crack, and using marijuana on and off.
“It hasn’t been fun for years,” he said. “I was using against my will probably since the first time I got clean in 2005. I have a heart condition and the thought crossed my mind if I could take a big enough hit to blow up my heart and end my life. That’s not me, I’m a very happy person I love life and that’s what brought me into treatment this time.”
James, 34, whose been at Camelot for nearly three months, said he too had heard about marijuana and drugs and what they could do, but everybody in his neighborhood was smoking so he started too.
“My mom and my aunt always used to tell me that it was going to be a gateway drug for me and I was going to start doing other things; but you know when you’re young you never listen,” James said. “I said OK, cool. I didn’t care but as I started getting older, I started seeing what they were telling me — that it was a gateway drug and [marijuana] makes you want to experiment with other things.”
He said he didn’t realize he had a problem until he started doing “the extra stuff” that came with use, like mixing marijuana and Percocet with ecstasy.
“At first it was to see how my body would react to it… that’s kind of insane thinking; seeing how far [my body] could go. Then I started realizing I was liking it,” he said. Trying to stop wasn’t easy; withdrawal was tough.
“I didn’t like it anymore, it wasn’t fun anymore,” he said.
IT MAY BE MEDICINAL BUT IT’S STILL A DRUG
Although the recent legislation focuses on recreational marijuana, it also expands on the state’s existing medical marijuana program, which passed in 2016 and has some of the biggest restrictions in the country.
Doctors will soon be able to prescribe smokable flower under the new Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act; previously only cannabis oil and capsules were permitted under the program.
Medical marijuana has been said to help patients suffering from a number of conditions and disorders, such as cancer, seizures, glaucoma, Chron’s disease, PTSD, and a range of other medical conditions.
“I think about how many addicts I know that went to heroin after they were cut off from their pain medication. Marijuana, anything that’s used as prescribed would have medicinal value but a drug is a drug,” Anthony said. “For a certain few people who have a certain condition it could medically necessary and help but we’re speaking about the same drug that is recreational.”
James agreed, adding that even though some people say it’s been beneficial for them, it can easily be abused. “That’s what people don’t realize,” James said. “At the end of the day it’s still a drug.”
TEMPTATION OF LEGALIZATION
One of the toughest parts about legalization is going to be temptation.
Under the legislation, dispensaries will be permitted to open – so long as localities permit – and maybe enticing for those working hard in their recovery. The borough’s first medical marijuana dispensary, Retail chain Be., opened to the public on March 26 on New Dorp lane amidst pizzerias, bakeries, clothing stores, and delis.
Individuals can also smoke marijuana in public wherever tobacco smoking is permitted, with few exceptions.
He said he thinks the attraction of dispensaries and openness of marijuana smoke will entice children at an even younger age than he was when he began smoking marijuana.
“It’s going to be difficult for me,” James said about marijuana be out in the open. “I’m going to stay focused on what I have to lose and not put myself in the same predicament. But it’s something that I’m always going to have to worry about.”
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