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How you can advocate for legal weed in NYC

Written by
Clayton Guse

It's easy to forget how far the powers that be in New York have come in terms of being cool with the devil's lettuce over the past couple of decades. Medical marijuana became legal in the state last year, and in 2014 the NYPD announced that it would stop arresting people who are caught possessing less than 25 grams of the drug (though you can't just start puffing a joint on the street). Nonetheless, pot-related arrests in the city have not exactly plummeted in recent years, even as polls show that most Americans support legalization and states across the country have started to warrant the recreational use of the drug.

Rather than picking up a few Swisher Sweets at your bodega this 4/20, cannabis aficionados can also consider getting active and pushing for legal weed in NYC and beyond. We spoke with representatives from New York's chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) about how everyday New Yorkers can start working to take action on this high holiday.

Find out who your elected representatives are

Nothing screams 4/20 like a deep dive into the democratic process. Dave Holland, a lawyer who works with NORML in New York state, says that by calling, writing or attending town halls with your elected representatives is one of the single best ways to advocate for marijuana legalization. Whether it's your congressperson, state representative or your city councilperson, getting to know your government officials and getting involved in the political process is a much more effective way to spark weed reform than, say, writing a lengthy Facebook post. 

Brush up on current legislation

In January, New York State Senator Liz Krueger introduced the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act into the state legislature, which would make New York the ninth state in the country to legalize the recreational use of cannabis (not including the District of Columbia). The bill would legalize the regulated use, possession, sale and cultivation of cannabis statewide, and establish a market in which it could be sold.

"Through the MRTA, we can inhibit access to minors, increase access who require it for medicinal purposes, create jobs, and generate tax revenue to be used to support communities that have been harmed by marijuana prohibition," said Nancy Udell, the director of Empire State NORML. 

If you want to advocate for this bill but are unable to write coherently because you just consumed altogether too many edibles, NORML has some pre-written language that you can use

If full-blown legalization in New York seems a bit unrealistic to you, there are other, less ambitious measures to get behind. Udell pointed to New York Senate bill 482, which would establish a process for sealing the arrest records of New Yorkers who were busted with marijuana "in public view." If passed, the bill would keep thousands of residents in the city from having a petty pot arrest on their records. 

Push for medical marijuana expansion

Even though cannabis for medical use is now legal in New York, it still isn't easy to get a prescription. The current law in place is one of the most restrictive of its kind in the entire country, and doesn't cover several illnesses  that could be treated with the drug, such as PTSD. You can advocate for the inclusion of more conditions under the law through the New York State Department of Health. Udell suggests writing to the body's commissioner, Dr. Howard Zucker.

The nuclear option: Call for a new state constitution

Holland pointed out one intriguing political opportunity for marijuana legalization advocates: the potential for a constitutional convention for the state of New York. Every 20 years, New Yorkers have the opportunity to vote on a referendum that would establish a process in which the state's constitution is completely overhauled. This could be a huge opportunity for advocates to pass an amendment for marijuana legalization. The vote on the referendum comes this November, but if you're fired up about the idea, 4/20 is a perfect day to start organizing.

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