By Jeremy Merkel
Just a few weeks after New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed a law to ban soft drinks and sugary beverages larger than 16 ounces, the Big Apple is making headlines again with more social reform. Last Monday Governor Andrew Cuomo introduced legislation to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, lowering the penalty from a misdemeanor to a non-criminal offense.
The proximity of these two events highlights the obvious irony: is New York really on track to decriminalize drugs, but criminalize snacks? Adding insult to injury, the fine imposed on businesses and establishments found to be selling sodas over 16 oz. is $200, while anyone in possession of marijuana under the established weight limit is only fined $100 Jon Stewart quipped on The Daily Show, “this soda is twice as illegal as this weed…and they go so well together!”
Even if you think the government has no place regulating what we can and cannot consume and that marijuana is detrimental to society, it’s hard to dispute the data driving these pieces of legislation.
A third of Americans are considered overweight or obese; in New York City, this figure hovers around FIFTY PERCENT. The Centers For Disease Control estimates that health care costs related to obesity (heart disease, diabetes, various types of cancer) are upwards of $150 billion annually. Diabetes care alone could potentially bankrupt the Medicare system in a few decades. According to the new study by researchers at the University of Chicago, over 44 million Americans will have diabetes in the year 2034 and the annual healthcare costs associated with the disease will balloon from the current $113 billion to $336 billion. Consider that a third of these costs are funded through Medicare and Medicaid – YOUR money as a taxpayer – and Mayor Bloomberg’s fat attack may no longer seem so blasphemous.
In 2011, New York City police officers made 50,000 arrests for low-level marijuana possession, amounting to $75 million in law enforcement costs. Since Bloomberg took office in 2002, there have been nearly 350,000 marijuana related arrests, more then under Mayors Koch, Dinkins, and Guiliani combined, finds Dr. Harry Levine, a sociology professor at City University of New York and a national expert on marijuana arrests.
Taxpayers are funding somewhere between $350 and $700 million for this “marijuana arrest crusade.” Taxpayers would likely support law enforcement endeavors that keep the city’s streets safe, but it’s questionable whether these arrests are doing just that. Not to mention, the disproportionate impact they are having on some of New York’s minority communities: (70% of arrests are of people between the ages of 16-29, most of them black or Latino).
Votifi has been polling on pop and pot. For the former, there generally seems to be a lot of support for decriminalization. On the latter, there is a lot of difference of opinion, although our polls cover a nationwide audience – not just New York city.
When asked if you would support a law that would limit the size of sugary drinks to 16 oz., only 43% of those polled were in favor, compared to 56% opposed.
In comparison, support for decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana received overwhelming support by a margin of 85-15%.
It is my theory that the variance of opinions on these matters stems from a question of principle. Of course you don’t need to be a soda drinker or a pot smoker to weigh in, but lets keep in mind what the real issue is here. One instance finds the government stepping in to take something away from us, while the other sees them broadening the liberties we can enjoy as Americans. As pollster Scott Rasmussen put it, “I don’t think anyone in Kansas cares what they do in New York, but the larger issue [of the role of government] is something they want to fight about. What we have is nothing more than fuel for this enduring debate.
So spill out your soda, put out that joint, because the conversation at VOTIFI can’t start without YOU.