Could New York Be the Next State to Legalize Marijuana?

The New York Police Department regularly faces criticism over the disproportionate number of Black and brown people who are arrested for marijuana possession. The department’s constant refrain has been that officers go where they are called. They respond to complaints to the city’s 311 assistance line or calls to 911. Arrests, they say, flow naturally from those calls to action.

But a New York Times analysis published this month threw that contention into serious doubt. As the paper reported, “among neighborhoods where people called about marijuana at the same rate, the police almost always made arrests at a higher rate in the area with more black residents.” An analysis by Politico New York in March also reached a similar conclusion. These reports have energized the campaign to legalize marijuana in the state.

The disproportionate impact that marijuana arrests have on communities of color in New York City, the state, and the rest of the country is profound — and exceptionally well-documented. Nationwide, Black people are almost four times more likely than their white neighbors to be arrested for marijuana possession, despite similar rates of consumption across racial and ethnic groups. In New York state, which has some of the harshest enforcement practices in the country, more than 80 percent of people arrested for marijuana possession were Black or Latino.

The state legislature actually decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana in 1977. But there was a major loophole: The law only decriminalized private possession. If the marijuana is in public view — even if it is out because a police officer told someone to empty their pockets — then possession becomes an arrestable offense.

Because of that loophole, low-level possession remains one of the top charges for arrest in New York. Since 1996, there have been more than 800,000 arrests for possession of small amounts of marijuana, and nearly 70 percent of those arrested are under 30. In 2016 alone, nearly 23,000 people were arrested statewide. On average, 60 people are arrested each day for marijuana possession in New York.

Those arrests take an enormous toll, especially on communities of color. Hundreds of thousands of people across the state are funneled into the criminal justice system, which dramatically diminishes their chances of future employment and hampers their ability to support their families.

This harsh enforcement also continues despite the fact that public opinion in New York and across the country is firmly on the side of marijuana legalization. A Pew poll in January found that 61 percent of Americans favor legalization. That is a seismic shift from just eight years ago when only 32 percent held that view. Similarly, New Yorkers back legalization by a 2-to-1 margin.

Slowly, but surely, some state officials have begun to inch toward the same conclusion. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced last week that he would direct NYPD officers to issue summonses to people smoking marijuana in public instead of arresting them. De Blasio will also create a task force to help ready the city for the day when marijuana is legalized statewide. Meanwhile, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said recently that a report he ordered on marijuana legalization could be out “within days.”

Cuomo and state lawmakers, however, should stop talking and make New York the 10th state to legalize recreational marijuana by passing the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act. The bill, introduced last year by Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes and Sen. Liz Krueger, would significantly reduce or eliminate criminal penalties for marijuana offenses. It would also drive millions of dollars in investments to low-income communities that have been hit hardest by the decades-long war on drugs.

The legislation will allow adults 21 and over to responsibly consume marijuana within a tightly regulated system. It will allow adults to legally possess, transport, purchase, consume, and share up to two pounds of marijuana. Adults 21 and over may also legally grow up to six plants in their homes.

The bill removes marijuana and marijuana products from the state Controlled Substances Act, and it eliminates many existing misdemeanors and felonies related to marijuana from the criminal code. Importantly, these dramatic reductions in criminal liability will be retroactive, meaning past convictions for crimes reduced or eliminated by the legislation may be sealed or reduced on the person’s criminal record.

The fiscal benefits of legalizing marijuana are obvious. Not only does it stop police, courts, and probation officers from wasting time and money on enforcing pot prohibition, it also raises tax revenue generated by legal sales. And the revenue is expected to be huge. New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer released an analysis this month estimating that the state would bring in $436 million each year in new tax revenue in pot and that New York City would rake in another $335 million annually.

Under the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, 50 percent of the money left over after researching and implementing the law would go towards the Community Grants Reinvestment Fund. The program funds job training, after-school programs, and community-centered projects in low-income communities and in areas disproportionately hurt by the war on drugs. Another 25 percent of the surplus revenue will go towards funding drug treatment programs and public education campaigns. The final 25 percent will go toward funding public schools.

The legislation is a mature attempt to right a grave injustice just as the Trump administration’s stance on marijuana policy reform has devolved from mere indifference and inaction to outright hostility. As is often the case these days, logic and progress have been abandoned by Washington and left to the states. It’s time for New York to step up, move past the era of pearl-clutching and cries of reefer madness, and let common sense lead the way.

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Anonymous

The American Lung Association has deemed second hand marijuana smoke to cause cardiac and respiratory issues. As an asthmatic, am very concerned with second hand smoke in private residences for renters as forced to tolerate drug fumes on the street and subway. Cannot visit a park without people overtly smoking pot unable to breathe and was unable to sit outdoors for dinner one night in a cafe with three youths conveniently smoking pot with pipes and other devices. Marijuana may also be confused with other illegal drugs, derailing law enforcement agents from arresting drug users and dealers. Concerned children will be tempted to use marijuana, which causes cerebral issues and educational failures. Medical marijuana is a hoax allegedly for opiod users and most other illnesses. The state of Colorado has the highest opiod drug addiction in the state and car accidents. Visited for business and was dismayed by the locals bragging about driving under the influence of marijuana. Witnessed in the civic park en route to the museum drug activity in broad day light and feared for my life as a tourist. Talked to a resident who opposed legalization and stated drug dealers were everywhere despite marijuana legalization. Arrests will continue to be made because most drug users use pot and other drugs. It doesn’t matter if you are black or white, when you,’re smoking pot in the am while everyone is going to work, you belong in jail. Yes I am concerned about crime increase with marijuana legalization and would move out of NY should this gateway drug be legalized. Cuomo is a bad politician pandering for votes. Marijuana is a bad, dirt and disgusting drug and must be federally prosecuted. PS I hate alcoholics who drink and drive but at least the police can test for illegal consumption while potheads evade the law.

Anonymous

Are you legitimately retarded?

Anonymous

I am all for decriminalizing marijuana but not legalizing its sale for recreational use. I think it would be a great disservice to our next generation of children to push marijuana for profit. I spent a year taking care of a teenager who was addicted to marijuana. I met with drug counselors, psychiatrists, parents, and other teenagers who were addicted. There is a "DSM" diagnosis it is a real thing. It affects judgement and ambition and, scientists are starting to find proof that it affects brain development. You can not properly diagnose somebody with a psychiatric issue when they have "THC" in their system because it can cause a host of other psychiatric problems and if you have a preexisting mental health issue, it can make it worse. It is difficult to tell a person that is high to not drive or engage in activity that they shouldn't be doing. That's like spinning someone around in a circle and telling them to walk straight! If they legalize marijuana who do you think is going to try to get their hands on it? Teenagers will, because it usually appeals to kids not mature adults! My ward turned her life around and is now going to college as for the rest of her friends who didn't, their lives are in the crapper, they are not functioning as healthy adults. Some of her friends graduated to stronger drugs and some those friends died of a drug overdose. Marijuana also smells and the odor lingers. That will go down really well in the stairwells and elevators of apartment buildings, and if the ventilation stinks, so will the neighbor's apartment. I felt a need to say something because with Canada completely legalizing it America will probably follow suit. I don't think people should be criminally prosecuted and have their lives ruined just for possessing and using pot, just as I wouldn't prosecute somebody for sniffing glue. But I would not push it on my community or anybody that I love!

ScarletIbis

It's been federally legal for decades. How come Joe Stoner gets from his dealer (may go to jail or get a felony, but yea who cares) and the cops brush him off after a few arrests? News flash: those fuckers been smoking freely for ages.

Anonymous

Pass the law already! I found that smoking weed helps me control my aggression! I tried quitting, but found that I am angry & upset for no reason! Helps keep me calm & relaxed! I can't ride the NYC subway with out smoking (easier to deal with the drama)

Anonymous

Tim Leary do you take an occasional drink, or have a drink at a Wedding or social function? Just know that every time you do, you too are indulging in drug activity. There are doctors, lawyers, judges nurses, firefighters, police and other very important, intelligent people that use marijuana and are fine and good at what the do. Not promoting deig use but not bashing weed smokers eithers

Anonymous

From "Chris webby la la la" "f4ck all of the commercials they all straight lies, acting like I'm gonna klii a motha fucka cuz I'm high, when the most I'll likely do is open the fridge, chill on the couch and never end up leaving my crib shit"

Anonymous

How is this still even a thing!? Legalize it you idiot politician jerks, the people have spoken, you work for us!

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I really do hope and pray that Marijuana become Legalized here in New York City soon. We will be glad and happy if that will happened. And i will keep my finger cross on it.

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