Cannabis reform activists in New York walked out of Albany last month, as usual, with nothing this legislative session. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who made cannabis reform his top priority, was also handed his second cannabis reform defeat in less than 12 months. Activists were dismayed that cannabis reform was removed from the overall state budget package.
“This is ugly. There’s no other way to call this,” said Gabriel Sayegh, New York director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “It’s ugly and it’s embarrassing to be a New Yorker when they can’t pass this one simple fix. They just kicked this can down the field before they go on vacation.” Cuomo announced Wednesday night that he had made a budget deal with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and joint state Senate leaders Dean Skelos and Jeffrey Klein on a state budget.
A convection of small amounts cannabis possession is punishable up to $100, but if a police officer orders someone to empty their pockets and cannabis is “public view” it then becomes a crime. The “public view” loophole is one of the most wildly criticized cannabis laws on the books. Cuomo has publicly called the loophole “the dumbest drug law ever.”
Critics also point to the NYPD controversial and statistically racist “Stop and Frisk” procedure, where police randomly search mostly minorities and order the contents of a suspect’s pockets in “public view.
After the budget is officially passed on Sunday, lawmakers in Albany will begin a three week vacation.
Activists speculate during that three week break, over 3000 citizens will be arrested for cannabis possession in New York, most of them minorities.
“If it’s low-income, black or Latino young people, they’re always told to wait,” Sayegh said.
Sayegh did not know who was to blame, but at this stage, believes everybody in Albany is suspect.
“We’re asking everybody and nobody seems to know what’s going on. The only ones who seem to know are Gov. Cuomo, Speaker Silver, Senator Skelos and Senator Klein,” Sayegh said. “It’s like watching the Three Stooges, except there’s essentially four. Everybody points at everybody else.”
Sayegh was not hopeful that cannabis reform would be resolved at all this year.
“What they’re saying is that they’re going to come back after their vacation and work on this issue,” Sayegh said. “So it’s not dead for the year, that’s what they say. But if they can’t get it done now, why are we supposed to believe that we can get it done later?”