New York continues to bear the brunt of the United States’ COVID-19 outbreak. As of this writing, over 300,000 people have been infected, with death totals north of 23,000. The Empire State has a history of cataclysmic events, from the 1977 blackout, 9/11, and the more recent Hurricane Sandy. Each of those historic events, however, had a prelude of decisions and events that led to the end result. The country’s economic downturn preceded the violence and looting during the 1977 blackout. The defiance of some NYC citizens led to Hurricane Sandy’s impact on the city worse than what it needed to be. What could have been a harbinger of New York’s COVID-19 crisis?
Wednesday November 19, 2014. This is the day New York decriminalized marijuana, in which those caught in possession are no longer arrested. Officers are allowed to make judgment calls on citizens with less than 26 grams in their possession. Citations and/or fines are now levied in place of jail time, thus decreasing “unnecessary arrests” and “free up New York City police to concentrate on more serious crimes”, according to Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Marijuana use has more than doubled in the U.S. since 2001, with a rough estimate of 55 million Americans using it for various reasons. Along with the national increases, New York City’s cannabis use has risen. Some advocates will claim that marijuana use has virtually zero health defects, but that has been proven false time and time again. Consistent and habitual marijuana use has adverse effects on brain functionality, mental health, childbirth, lung function, and can lead to a higher risk of stroke, more specifically acute ischemic stroke. Doctors suggest that smoking, of any kind, damage all organs in the human body. All of these health risks increase when you introduce co-users (marijuana and tobacco smokers) into the equation.
Habitual marijuana use, most prevalently, affects the respiratory and immune systems. COVID-19 victims have largely been those with diminished respiratory and immune systems, regardless of age (although older citizens are dying at higher rates). Decriminalizing marijuana, in some regards, could be seen as an incitement for more marijuana use. One can responsibly conclude that as generations pass, and the number of habitual smokers increases, there would be more people with weaker immune systems and more pronounced respiratory problems.
Then there are the geographical aspects to add. New York is densely populated (it is the fourth most populated state in the country with two-thirds of the nearly 8.4 million living in the metropolitan area) and it is ranked the dirtiest state in America. Located on the East Coast, the weather remains colder for longer periods of time, giving the virus more time to spread.
This is the perfect chain of events that would lead to a large scale COVID-19 pandemic in the region many consider to be the epicenter of United States wealth and prosperity, possibly spurred along by the policy changes on November 19, 2014.