Bill de Blasio

Why Is N.Y. Mayor De Blasio Yelling at Corporations About Harms Caused by the City's War on Weed?

The government is the villain of this story, not wealthy industrialists.


New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio formally declared his support for legalizing marijuana Thursday, but he did so in a way that makes it abundantly clear that he doesn't actually support people's free choices.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo beat de Blasio to the punch Monday by reversing his own opposition to marijuana legalization (lagging, like most politicians do, well behind public opinion). De Blasio's own transformation on marijuana comes with so much top-down, progressive, anti-market baggage that you'd be forgiven if you thought this clip of his speech tweeted from his account was actually a rejection of legalization:

De Blasio wants to legalize marijuana but also control who gets to profit off it, all to fulfill his fantasies of what the industry should look like rather than letting the market sort it out. He doesn't want more freedom for New York City's citizens; he wants control over the marijuana market. Marijuana Moment quotes a letter he wrote explaining his vision of legal marijuana in the Big Apple:

The mayor's letter spells out what he thinks a legal marijuana industry should look like.

"We've seen these kinds of new industries spring up before. Legalization can follow two routes. In one, corporate Cannabis rushes in and seizes a big, new market, driven by a single motive: greed," he wrote. "In another, New Yorkers build their own local cannabis industry, led by small businesses and organized to benefit our whole diverse community."

"Tragically, we know what happens when corporations run the show," de Blasio wrote.

Yes, we all recall the time that goons from R.J. Reynolds attacked Eric Garner on a street corner and choked him to death. No, wait, those were officers from de Blasio's own police department, and one reason they were hassling Garner was because of his history of hustling untaxed loose cigarettes. New York City has a massive cigarette black market caused not by corporations but by the city's high taxes, price controls, and other controls on the market. Is that what New Yorkers want marijuana legalization to look like too?

The government of New York City is the villain of this story, not the hero. Government control over who may participate in markets leads to cronyism and corruption. Consider occupational licensing regimes that serve entrenched business interests and protect them from market competition. It's typically the poor who ultimately suffer as their opportunities to participate are reduced.

De Blasio insists he's going to try to force the opposite here, but that's just not how government permitting works in actual practice. Restricting access to this market will hurt those who lack influence, not help them.

De Blasio also calls for expunging the records of those arrested for past marijuana crimes. That part's great, particularly since the New York Police Department kept arresting people even after the state made possession just a citable offense. That doesn't make the City of New York the hero of the story, any more than a bully becomes virtuous because he stops beating up kids in the playground.

If de Blasio is truly committed to making lives better for his poor, underprivileged city dwellers, he should try to keep the government out of the pot industry as much as possible, let the market provide opportunities, and don't put unneeded restrictions on who participates. And don't tax the hell out of it, thereby keeping the demand in place for marijuana black markets.