NYPD Gears Up To Address Pot Legalization Downside

By Maggie Ethridge 01/10/19

The city's police commissioner is sending NYPD officials to other pot-legal states to gauge what the city is in for when marijuana becomes legal.  

NYPD officers in New York

The New York Police Department is gearing up for the effects of legal marijuana without knowing exactly what those effects will be. The top of the NYPD chain has some specific concerns for the future of pot in New York: underage consumption and dangerous marijuana grow houses.

As reported in The New York Post, NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill told radio host John Catsimatidis’ AM 970 show, The Cats Roundtable, “We have to make sure that we’re able to address people that are under 21 that are using marijuana to make sure there are sanctions for that and also to keep young people safe.”

Colorado has made pot smoking legal, and data from possible changes in use is beginning to be compiled and distributed. The CDPHE Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey reported that underage marijuana use did not increase after pot was made legal. However, Colorado kids felt their peers were using much more marijuana than before the law passed.

Commissioner O’Neill is taking the reigns in investigating the possible ramifications for legal pot in New York. “I’m concerned about the gray and the black markets for marijuana,” O’Neill said. “We sent people from the NYPD out to Colorado and Washington and [California] to take a look at what’s happening out there.”

Governor Cuomo has said he still has questions and concerns about legalizing marijuana for recreational use. Cuomo is putting his trust in the process of working with a panel of experts, including law enforcement and health officials who have determined that legalization can be safe for the city. Governor Cuomo’s position on legalized pot has been colored by watching the neighboring states of Massachusetts and New Jersey legalize marijuana or begin the process.

O’Neill remains concerned. “There’s a proposal out there that people are going to be able to grow their own marijuana in their houses,” he said. “We really really have to get this right.”

O’Neill noted the 2016 explosion of a marijuana grow house in the Bronx that killed a fire chief when he was hit in the head with debris from the explosion. Commissioner O’Neill cited this house fire and subsequent death as a factor “that makes people unsafe.”

O’Neill also worried about the need to retire marijuana-trained drug dogs and the concurrent difficulty of detecting THC among stoned drivers. “I’m concerned about driving while under the influence of marijuana,” the New York Post reported the commissioner saying. “Right now there is no instant test.”

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Maggie May Ethridge is the author of Atmospheric Disturbances: Scenes From a Marriage (Shebooks, 2014) and the recently completed novel, Agitate My Heart. She is a freelance writer published in Rolling Stone, VOX, Washington Post, The Guardian and many others. Find her at her blog Flux Capacitor or on LinkedIn or Twitter.