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#MarijuanaJustice Looks to Legalize Pot, Combat Racist Policing in NYC

#MarijuanaJustice Looks to Legalize Pot, Combat Racist Policing in NYC
PHOTO Natalie Maguire

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#MarijuanaJustice Looks to Legalize Pot, Combat Racist Policing in NYC

New York City politicians push for equity as legalization looms in the Empire State.

Members of the New York City Council held the first of three hearings on Wednesday to discuss the NYCC Progressive Caucus’s #MarijuanaJustice package, which calls on the state and federal agencies to legalize marijuana and take action to undo the damage prohibition has caused. And according to the latest numbers on marijuana arrests from the New York City Police Department, such legislative moves can’t come soon enough.

The New York City Council’s committees on Public Safety, Justice, Consumer Affairs & Business Licensing, and Civil & Human Rights heard two of the four proposed laws and 11 of the 13 proposed resolutions that make up the #MarijuanaJustice package, first announced Feb. 13.

The package was announced by the Progressive Caucus in conjunction with the council’s Black, Latino/a and Asian caucuses, as well as the New York State branch of the Drug Policy Alliance.

According to a Feb. 27 press release, these proposals are all intended to “express support for ethical legalization that prioritize equity and restitution, reduce the collateral consequences from marijuana criminalization and promote policies that prioritize the inclusion of communities most harmed by marijuana criminalization.”

#MarijuanaJustice, Explained

The package’s proposed legislation includes two laws designed to track who and how many cases referred to the city’s Administration of Children’s Services result from a caretaker using marijuana, one law that would end marijuana drug tests for individuals on probation and a law that would prohibit pre-employment screening for THC.

Among the resolutions are calls for Gov. Andrew Cuomo to sign the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act which would legalize and regulate recreational cannabis in the state, the expungement of all misdemeanor marijuana convictions in New York City and the passage of equity legislation with “explicit equity provisions requiring applicants for licenses and permits to be required to demonstrate how they will support hiring of people with prior convictions,” per another press release introducing #MarijuanaJustice.

“Legalization of marijuana is coming to New York State and if we are going to legalize it, it is only fair that we do the best we can as a city to undo the harm criminalization has caused in communities of color,” Council Member Ben Kallos, co-chair of the Progressive Caucus, said in a statement on Feb. 27.

Arrests Drop, Discrimination Doesn’t

The caucus’s proposals feel particularly timely given the state of marijuana policing in New York City. Per a recent report by the New York Daily News, the rate of pot arrests for black and Hispanic individuals in the city has risen since last fall, despite the fact that overall arrest rates have plummeted. These changes have occurred in the wake of lenient new rules that allow police officers to issue tickets for possession or public marijuana consumption.

Naturally, the cops defended their methods in a statement from a spokeswoman citing the overall decrease in arrests. “The NYPD has dramatically reduced arrests and summonses for marijuana-related offenses,” police spokeswoman Sgt. Jessica McRorie told the New York Daily News. “This new policy is an important step toward less intrusive enforcement while we continue to drive down crime to record lows and New York City remains the safest big city.”

But #MarijuanaJustice proponents argue that this so-called dramatic reduction is essentially a consolation prize unless additional steps — both to legalize cannabis and level the industry playing field once legalization is enacted — are taken.

Progressive’s Progress So Far

This push by the Progressive Caucus also feels urgent because despite Gov. Cuomo’s stated intentions to get the ball rolling on legalization, he has not appeared to be making equity a priority in that process.

Fortunately, yesterday’s hearing seems to already be a move in the direction of a progressive version of legalization. As of Feb. 27, Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. expressed his support for marijuana legalization and subsequent record expungement and Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark committed to declining to prosecute cases in which defendants face only marijuana possession charges.

“Given New York’s appalling history with racially biased marijuana enforcement, legalization must be as comprehensive as the damage that has been done throughout the state,” New York’s DPA deputy director Melissa Moore said in the Progressive Caucus’s latest press release. “It must deal with the extensive collateral consequences individuals face, ensure equity and diversity on day one and reinvest revenue in the communities that were the hardest hit by marijuana criminalization.”

TELL US, does your local government support equity measures in the process of cannabis legalization?

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