Hundreds of demonstrators rallied in New York City’s Union Square on Saturday to call for the legalization of marijuana in New York State.
NYC Cannabis Parade organizer Troy Smit told NBC News the annual event, first held in 2012, aims to “end the war on drugs, release the medicine, free the prisoners, heal the sick, and unite the nations.”
Colorado, Washington, and Alaska have already legalized the recreational use of marijuana. In February a law went into effect in Washington, D.C., that made carrying small amounts of pot legal. Oregon voters passed a law legalizing pot that is set to take effect July 1.
Jack Cole, Co-Founder of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and a retired New Jersey state police officer and undercover narcotics detective, told the crowd, “When I retired, I felt very bad about my role in implementing this drug war because it’s destroyed so many people.”
Deacon Fiirst said he came to the rally to exercise his right to enjoy cannabis, and said the criminalization of pot is leaving too many people in prisons for non-violent offenses. “A victimless crime is pointless to prosecute someone for,” he said.
"It’s a plant. It should be treated like that. You should be able to buy it in the store like you buy your cucumbers," Blake Gerrard, who came to the rally with Fiirst, said.
Not everyone at Union Square Park agreed with the message of the rally.
Parkgoer Kalbesh Master called marijuana legalization “a bad idea.” “It spoils the culture quite a lot … there’s a lot of people that would smoke cannabis and it’s probably not a great thing for the city,” he said.
If demonstrators have their way, New York State would become the fifth state to approve the legalization of marijuana.
State Sen. Liz Krueger, a Democrat who represents part of Manhattan, and State Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes, a Democrat who represents the Buffalo area, sponsored a bill in 2013 to regulate and tax marijuana for general use. It is before a committee.
The Senate version of the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act has been referred to a committee. Brad Usher, Krueger’s chief of staff for Senator Krueger, said the bill is not expected to pass this year.