Mary Jane has gotten a bad reputation. She’s really not that kind of girl.

Is our society — one state at a time — gradually coming to its senses?

We grew up in an era where our parents and their friends smoked cigarettes, with an ashtray on every coffee table. They had martinis at lunchtime and cocktail parties that lasted long into the night. Alcohol and nicotine — both addictive drugs — were part of the social milieu.

But marijuana? No. Although cannabis is not an addictive drug, mention of marijuana led to warnings about outcomes like those in “Reefer Madness” — pot could lead to murder, suicide, rape, and, as the title made clear, madness.

Even when marijuana was commonly used, it was political suicide for candidates to admit they’d imbibed — or inhaled. Over a quarter-century ago, in 1992, when Bill Clinton was the Democratic frontrunner for president, he famously hedged the question during a televised interview.

“When I was in England, I experimented with marijuana a time or two and I didn’t like it, and didn’t inhale,” the presidential hopeful said, “and never tried it again.”

How refreshing then to read in Barack Obama’s “Dreams From My Father,” a memoir he published in 1995, how he and a group of friends got high and played basketball; they were the “Choom Gang.”

Our own governor, Andrew M. Cuomo, has seen the tide turning — a poll this spring found 63 percent of New Yorkers support legalizing marijuana — and he has gone from calling marijuana a “gateway drug” as recently as last year to calling for a study to evaluate the health, public safety, and economic impact of legalizing marijuana in New York. This week, Cuomo appointed a group to draft legislation that would do just that.

Unbelievably, we went through college in the early 1970s when pot was all around us but never used it. On a recent trip to Oregon, however, we gave it a try, sharing a candy bar with our daughter and giggling with her and her 87-year-old grandmother who daily enjoys using cannabidiol oil on her aching arthritic joints.

We probably won’t imbibe again but we have no problem with others who do. The report requested by the governor, 74 pages long, replete with footnotes on a wide range of studies, came out last month, concluding the benefits of a regulated marijuana market outweigh any drawbacks.

“Experts in the fields of public health, mental health, substance use, public safety, transportation, and economics worked in developing this assessment,” the report says. “No insurmountable obstacles to regulation of marijuana were raised.”

In addition to noting the potential for “substantial tax revenue,” the report also concludes, “Regulation of marijuana benefits public health by enabling government oversight of the production, testing, labeling, distribution, and sale of marijuana.” It goes on to say that a regulated marijuana program would let the state “better control licensing, ensure quality control and consumer protection, and set age and quantity restrictions.”

The Federal Controlled Substance Act of course still classifies cannabis in the strictest category, Schedule I, along with LSD and heroin.

This has caused police and prosecutors across the country to spend countless resources on arresting and convicting people using marijuana — resources that could be better spent stopping harmful crimes. Immeasurable damage has been done to people’s lives, mostly black and hispanic people.

The recently-released report notes, “Historically, marijuana criminalization has had a profound impact on communities of color and has led to disproportionate targeting of certain populations for arrest and prosecution. The over-prosecution of marijuana has significant negative economic, health, and safety impacts that have disproportionately affected low-income communities of color. Legalization of marijuana will address this important social justice issue.”

Albany County’s district attorney, David Soares, told our reporter Sean Mulkerrin that market regulation of marijuana could, if done correctly, be a “magic bullet” for struggling communities who have been most hurt by prosecution.

“A magic bullet,” Soares said, “in the sense that it has an opportunity to target both inner-city and rural communities and provide economic stimulus in both … at the same time, if done right.”

For years, New York State has been taking small steps in the right direction. In 1977, the state decriminalized having small amounts of pot, making it a ticketable offense rather than a misdemeanor. But possession of marijuana in public view remains a misdemeanor.

Two years ago, New York’s Compassionate Care Act went into effect, allowing New Yorkers to get the medicine they need for a limited number of serious diseases. And that list has been gradually expanding; most recently it was announced that opioid use will be added as a qualifying condition. There are also bills that would increase patient access to medical marijuana.

New York is ready for the next step. It will be important to craft legislation that will address potential ill effects — educating police on identifying drivers who are high, and educating parents on the need to keep edible marijuana products out of the reach of children.

Illegal marijuana is already here. It must be regulated so that the product New Yorkers use is safe. And, the proceeds that come from that should be used, as Soares suggested, to help balance the scales in the ever-widening gulf in our society between the rich and the poor, to help the communities most harmed by the unbalanced prosecution and incarceration.

Although data shows equal use of marijuana among racial groups, the July report notes a black person is almost four times more likely than a white person to be arrested for possession of marijuana. Soares noted that when “taking down entire criminal enterprises … many of those enterprises are rooted in suburban communities.”

The state’s illegal marijuana market is estimated to be $1.7 to $3.5 billion a year. That’s a lot of wealth that can be regulated and tapped for the public good.

Finally, another advantage is that legalizing marijuana could remove research restrictions in New York State, which would let researchers in the state add to the knowledge of both the benefits and risks. As the July report notes, “From the late 1800s until the 1930s, marijuana was generally considered a benign, medically efficacious substance that was sold in pharmacies and doctors’ offices throughout the United States to treat various ailments.”

In an Enterprise podcast in June, Dr. Kenneth Weinberg, with Cannabis Doctors of New York, spoke passionately about  how humans and other animals have endocannabinoid systems. When people aren’t making enough of their own cannabis, he said, for example those who suffer from multiple sclerosis, taking cannabis alleviates some of their symptoms.

He spoke with the frustration of the Catch-22 we’ve highlighted earlier — since research can’t be done, evidence can’t be gathered to progress with using cannabis for healing as it had been used for millennia, Weinberg said.

“What would happen if we could do that here?” he asked. He answered himself: “That would be stupendous.”


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