New York City Is Discovering That Legalizing Marijuana Wasn’t Really a Great Idea

Decriminalizing marijuana, we’ve been told to the point of stupor for years, would simply be a matter of recognizing the way society has changed and coming to a mature accommodation of a widespread current practice. It would free up valuable police resources to deal with actual crimes and real criminals, and end a longstanding injustice in which — you guessed it! — people of color were, we were told, disproportionately targeted for arrest and prosecution. So the state of New York has legalized marijuana, and how’s it going? Doritos and Patchouli oil sales through the roof? Maybe. But there have been a lot of unexpected downsides.


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The New York Post reported last Monday that “the Sunday night murder inside a Harlem ‘smoke shop’ near the corner of 125th Street and Malcolm X Boulevard — the second shooting in the neighborhood in the last year — is a savage reminder of the state’s stupendously disastrous legalization of marijuana.” It seems that the state went about the legalization by “virtually eliminating the entire criminal code pertaining to marijuana overnight.” Making matters even worse, “progressive state lawmakers, besotted by a woke vision of the pursuit of equity, decided to reserve the first retail licenses for felons and other ‘justice-involved’ individuals.” They wanted to make legalized marijuana “a vehicle for reparations.” Great idea!

The state has been slow to grant licenses to legal marijuana shops, however, so illegal ones have proliferated, and cops can do little or nothing to stop them, “because having weed on open display isn’t against the law — the cops have to be present to witness a sale in order to issue a violation.” But these places also often sell other illegal drugs and quickly become centers for other crimes as well. There has been “a sharp rise in robberies targeting illegal smoke shops around the city. There were 251 violent robberies in 2021, and more than double that number in 2022. This year, robberies are up another 10%.”

New York City Mayor Eric Adams has declared: “This cannabis stuff is a real problem!” He has, however, done nothing about it and insisted that it’s the state’s problem. Yet the city has plenty of problems of its own that arise from the legalization, and they aren’t all related to crime. Another unexpected byproduct of the proliferation of grass inside Gotham has been that the City That Never Sleeps has become the City That Always Sleeps. The Post’s Steve Cuozzo observed Sunday that all too many city stores are staffed by stoners who can barely understand, much less fulfill, customer orders.

“A license to get high,” Cuozzo says, “has turned service employees into zombies.” He adds: “I’ve lived in the city nearly all my life. I never had to repeat my highly complex Starbucks order — a ‘tall’ coffee — three times to get a response from the bummed-out barista, the way I do now.” He says that he now regularly encounters service workers who are “stoned up the wazoo, hollow-eyed, disengaged from their tasks, their breath reeking of weed.” This makes what used to be routine transactions into unpredictable adventures.

Cuozzo recounts: “I gave a guy at Pret a Manger a $20 bill for an $8 cup of soup. I asked for a bag. He took the $20 and promptly forgot the soup, my change, the bag — and me. He wandered off, inexplicably waving my Andrew Jackson like a flag, until I appealed to his colleagues.” He quotes a bank executive recalling that at a gourmet food shop, the cashier was “so out of it, staring into space while people waited in line. She forgot to give me my change. She closed the register. I had to wait for someone to come with the dreaded key. After ten minutes for a 30-second transaction, she didn’t even apologize.” Why should she apologize? She is the wave of the future, a citizen of the new nation, diverse, equitable, multicultural, and enlightened. She is the twenty-first-century American.

But reading Cuozzo’s stories raises the inevitable question: is it possible that earlier generations actually had a point in keeping marijuana and other drugs illegal? Did they realize the societal dysfunction that legalizing such substances could cause, and opted instead not to make it so easy for people to turn themselves into barely functioning messes? Is it time for America to realize that the “progressives” are taking us to a society that is unlivable in all kinds of ways and that some regress is now in order?


Robert Spencer

Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. He is author of 26 books including many bestsellers, such as The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades)The Truth About Muhammad and The History of Jihad. His latest books are The Critical Qur’an and The Sumter Gambit. Follow him on Twitter here. Like him on Facebook here. For media inquiries, contact

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