Stand Up for Effective Drug Policy

I supported ending a County partnership with the DEA to eradicate marijuana

October 23, 2020

Attempting to eradicate marijuana is the wrong use of resources. We should be focusing on evidence-based solutions: successful pathways to recovery and harm reduction. I vote no."

Michael Chameides
April 10, 2019 statement against resolution 128.

I want to thank all of my constituents who contacted me about this issue and shared their experiences. Three times, I voted against accepting $5,000 from the Drug Enforcement Administration to locate and eradicate marijuana plants. What I heard over and over again from my constituents is that this proposal distracts from what should be the priority—the opioid crisis and more effective measures.

In 2020 the Columbia County Sheriff put the program on pause and did not renew the contract.

Drug Crisis Has Huge Impact on Our Community

Many of us have been directly affected by the drug crisis. In 2016, Columbia County reported 13 deaths and 29 outpatient hospital visits due to opioid overdoses.

Causes and Solutions

I would urge us to center major policy decisions on the best available data. (In 2014, I wrote about Dr. Carl Hart’s work to create science-based drug policy.)

From the data, we have some key findings to help guide our policy.

  • Treatment and harm reduction services are effective.
  • Mass incarceration has devastated communities.
  • Supply drives demand, remove a drug source and it’s replaced with another.

Should We Prioritize Marijuana Eradication?

Given the overwhelming opioid problem, marijuana eradication is not the best use of resources. Further, any marijuana plants that we destroy will be replaced by marijuana from other sources.

Columbia County has one of the highest rates of marijuana arrests in New York State. In 2016, marijuana possession arrests accounted for about 23 percent of all arrests. This is more than double the arrest rate of our neighboring counties in New York State, and in Massachusetts, marijuana is legal.

The local arrest rate will likely change since New York State’s decriminalization of marijuana possession. Under the new law, possession of less than one ounce is a violation subject to a $50 fine; possession of one to two ounces changes from a Class B misdemeanor to a violation punishable by up to a $200 fine. More than two ounces is still be considered a crime. Smoking marijuana in public is a violation, instead of a misdemeanor. Marijuana should be legalized, however, the county has opposed statewide marijuana legalization.

Focus on Priorities

The Drug Enforcement Administration is offering $5,000 to fund marijuana plant eradication. I worry that the Federal agency’s offer is distracting us from other, more important priorities. We should be careful to evaluate projects and take care not to let the lure of grant money set our priorities.

Will $5,000 towards eradicating marijuana plants make a real difference in the drug crisis? Will this $5,000 marijuana operation end up costing us more money or prevent us from taking more effective action elsewhere?

To date, the County has implemented many programs to provide better outcomes and is currently working on more. I appreciate these efforts and worry that this marijuana eradication resolution hinders those efforts.

Learn more about my positions on policing.