Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been ridiculed for his paternalistic approach at improving the health of New York City residents. Bloomberg and his supporters often justify the bans by citing health survey data and extending probable causations of implementation of the bans as indicators of what positive impact the bans have on the health of society and ultimately the taxpayers. He’s gone so far as to say, poor people need the soda ban because they “can’t take care of themselves.” Few people question this logic, though health survey data doesn’t take into account all factors that may yield positive results. Certainly unintended consequences of prohibition will arise that are unlikely to be considered into the measurements of the “success” of his bans.
Bloomberg is notorious for a top-down approach of implementing bans on health vices like the sales of larger sized sugary sodas; raising the minimum price of tobacco products while hiding displays in stores; restricting smoking cigarettes in restaurants, workplaces, public parks and beaches; and reducing the amount of salt in packaged and restaurant food by 25%t over the next five years to combat high blood pressure.
On May 31, Bloomberg was on a WOR-AM radio show on which he made the claim, “There is no medical [marijuana]. This is one of the great hoaxes of all time.” This radio interview took place one day after the New York State Assembly approved a bill decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana in an 80-59 vote.
A medical advocacy group, NY Physicians for Compassionate Care is one of the lobbying groups behind the efforts to decriminalize and have provided mounting evidence to the contrary of Bloomberg’s claims. NY Physicians for Compassionate Care cited an extensive list of scientific evidence including: “the gold-standard randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trials, has made clear that medical marijuana is safe and effective in controlling chronic pain, alleviating nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy, treating wasting syndrome associated with HIV/AIDS, controlling muscle spasms due to multiple sclerosis, and managing epilepsy. Emerging evidence also suggests that medical marijuana may help patients living with cancer, Parkinson’s, and other chronic and debilitating illnesses.”
In addition to the medicinal reasons for decriminalization, another lobbying group in favor of the bill has provided law enforcement statistics as indicators of the necessity of relaxing marijuana laws. As the bill moves to the State Senate for a vote, Gabriel Saygeh of the Drug Policy Alliance has asserted, “The NYPD spent 1 million police hours on these low level marijuana arrests.”
Mayor Bloomberg’s concerns with medical marijuana and decriminalization of handling small amounts is consistent with his top-down style for making strides toward better community health but fails to fully address some of the unintended consequences associated with prohibition laws. In the May 31 radio interview, he was also quoted saying, “Drug dealers have families to feed. If they can’t sell marijuana, they’ll sell something else.”
Bloomberg’s acknowledgement of the negative consequences of marijuana decriminalization shows the imperfections of dictating bans on health vices. The recent over-ruling of the sugary soda ban made by Justice Milton A. Tingling of State Supreme Court in Manhattan has shown that these bans are arbitrary and hard to measure.
Mayor Bloomberg’s logic that marijuana dealers will resort to selling other drugs is hard to measure and counter-intuitive. He fails to address the health and safety concerns of the families who have chosen the route of drug dealing while accepting that alternative, black markets may arise as a result of government tampering. As Bloomberg’s website examined the historic precedence of alcohol prohibition, a theme arises of entrepreneurs trying to make money from the black market to care for their families.
If Bloomberg was really concerned with low income families resorting to selling marijuana or other drugs, he would take a more considerate look at drug policy impacts. The easier solution of putting a ban on arbitrary health vices could have unintended consequences of creating black markets and does more for public approval ratings than addressing health and safety of society.