Michael Bloomberg revealed in a radio interview today that his understanding of how marijuana works could be considered as baffling as his administration's approach to marijuana-related crimes. Except that his weird justifications might explain the bad policies.
There aren't many charitable ways to interpret the New York City mayor's comments, made on a radio show on WOR today and as reported by the New York Post. He took issue with the idea of legalizing marijuana for three reasons.
Pot isn't medicinal.
"Medical, my foot," the mayor said, clearly not referring to an ailment of his own.
"There's no medical. This is one of the great hoaxes of all time."
Saying something is one of the great hoaxes of all time is, in itself, a bold claim. We are a civilization that has yielded a staggering array of hoaxes from the Loch Ness Monster to Bernie Madoff. If it were the case that marijuana held no medical benefit, it would perhaps be a hoax, but of questionable scale.
And it would involve the complicity of researchers at Boston's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and hundreds of doctors and the government, all of whom suggest that there's validity to the idea of marijuana having a medicinal use.
A Bloomberg staffer "clarified" to the Post reporter that the mayor meant that recreational users might acquire pot reserved for medical purposes. Which is a weird definition of "hoax," but we'll go with it.
Weed is too strong!
Bloomberg then said this: "The bottom line is, I'm told marijuana is much stronger today than it was 20, 30 years ago. … That's one problem."
It's not exactly clear how that's a problem? This isn't like alcohol, in which there's a demonstrable downside to drinking too much. Yes, a big glass of beer will have a very different effect than a big glass of Everclear. But that is not demonstrably the case with pot. Perhaps Bloomberg is worried stoned people might eat too many salty foods.
Weed dealers would otherwise sell heroin.
Bloomberg's third argument was perhaps the weirdest.
[D]rug dealers have families to feed. If they can't sell marijuana, they'll sell something else. And the something else will be something worse.
This is not how drug dealing, particularly of marijuana, works. There are a lot of drugs with much higher profit margins than marijuana. It may very well be the case the marijuana dealers will explore other high-profit criminal activity in lieu of selling weed if it is legalized, but those dealers could be selling "something worse" right now if they really wanted to. A lot of weed dealers, I am told from reliable sources who are not me, do so casually. Many of them aren't trying to feed their families. They're trying to offset the cost of smoking weed.
Bloomberg's comments, head-slappingly goofy as they were, are a little less funny when one considers that he is the mayor of city that relishes busting people for marijuana possession. Just yesterday, Salon's Alex Pareene described how, with Bloomberg's blessing, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly has turned the pot bust into something of an art form.
The NYPD is a world-leader in marijuana arrests. The vast majority of those arrested have been black men, a group the city has explicitly persecuted under Kelly and Bloomberg in a depressing variety of ways. Between 2002 and 2012 the NYPD made 440,000 arrests for low-level marijuana possession. Until Kelly finally told officers to stop doing so in 2011, a common police tactic was to trick or coerce people being frisked into taking drugs out of their pockets themselves, putting the marijuana in “public view” and making it an arrestable offense. (This is also illegal.)
The problem grew particularly bad in conjunction with the NYPD's enthusiasm for stop-and-frisks, random searches of pedestrians — nearly all of them innocent and people of color — that Bloomberg credits with reducing the city's crime rate. But the data suggests that arrests for misdemeanor drug crimes increased in tandem with the number of stop-and-frisks. This is part of the reason the New York State Legislature wants to legalize marijuana in the first place: To curtail arrests from the Bloomberg NYPD's still-enthusiastic stop-and-frisk program.
A final note, just as a bit of a garnish on the ridiculousness of Bloomberg's comments. When asked in 2001, the not-yet-mayor admitted that he used to smoke weed, saying, "You bet I did. And I enjoyed it." Presumably only because it wasn't very strong and it kept his dealer's kids fed. And almost certainly he would now agree that he should have been arrested for possessing it.