After being confronted last week over his fear of the corporate side-effects of cannabis legalization, given that his city saw close to 18,000 marijuana arrests last year, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has ordered the creation of a task force to prepare the city for legalization and direct the New York Police Department to stop arresting people for marijuana.
In a huge move only a week after De Blasio was lambasted for talking about his fear of corporate marijuana — while so many New Yorkers have had their lives devastated by marijuana arrests, the mayor’s new group will direct the NYPD to stop arresting people for both smoking marijuana in public and low-level possession. Offenders will now receive a summons.
This will immediately halt New York City’s status as one of the greatest enforcers of marijuana prohibition, especially considering that much of New York’s enforcement was disproportionately directed at black and brown communities. The New York-based Drug Policy Alliance noted that 800,000 New Yorkers have been arrested since 1996, and many of those arrested over the past 20 years for marijuana possession were not smoking in public, but simply had a small amount in their pocket, purse, or bag — a legal violation, not a criminal offense.
“After decades of community-led efforts to reduce the harms caused by racially-biased enforcement of marijuana prohibition, New York City appears poised to take another step forward to curb arrests further,” announced the Drug Policy Alliance, along with the harm reduction organization VOCAL-NY, in a joint statement.
Both organizations believe it is essential that the new NYPD policy on marijuana, which nobody has actually seen yet, “cannot include carve-outs based on, for example, criminal record, or parole/probation status; does not provide police with vague discretionary authority to arrest for ‘public safety’ justifications.” They also want it to, of course, correct rather than exacerbate the city’s famous targeting of black and Latino New Yorkers by NYPD for marijuana enforcement that continues to this day by de Blasio’s own admission.
The statement also notes now that the city is “finally acknowledging that enforcing marijuana prohibition is futile.”
“It is the City’s duty to systematically address the harms and collateral consequences of past marijuana arrests – through record sealing and restoration of rights – and to ensure that implementation includes revisions of regressive marijuana policies at other City agencies such as NYCHA and Administration for Children’s Services (ACS),” the statement continued.
While it’s obviously expected that the new NYPD policy will make improvements in the city’s criminal justice and policing system, the mayor’s new team is also preparing the city to make a lot of cash. It appears that New York City will seemingly have legal cannabis before the companies selling it in the Empire State get banking rights.
Erin Durkin of the Daily News reported Monday that de Blasio will “put together a task force of city officials to lay the groundwork for full legalization, figuring out issues like how cops will deal with public smokers, what kind of zoning will be needed for pot dispensaries, and what types of public health campaigns the city should run about marijuana.”
If this new policing strategy had gone into effect in 2015, then 2016 would have had a 3 percent drop in marijuana arrests nationwide.
The Marijuana Policy Project called the announcement from de Blasio exciting news.
“New York decriminalized marijuana in 1977, yet nearly 18,000 people were arrested for minor marijuana offenses in New York City last year, 86 percent of them people of color,” said Kate Bell, legislative council for the Marijuana Policy Project, in comments to Cannabis Now. “Ending these arrests will help keep people from being dragged into the criminal justice system for nothing more than choosing to consume a substance that is safer than alcohol. These arrests are a waste of resources and ruin lives, and we applaud the Mayor for declaring an end to them.”
As for preparing for a legal cannabis marketplace that will likely serve 9 million New Yorkers in the not-too-distant future, Bell said that the task force would have the ability to prepare New York City “to be a leader” in the legal cannabis industry.
“For example, New York City is a huge tourist designation, so ensuring that tourists have a safe, lawful place to consume cannabis once it becomes legal would be a great issue for the task force to examine,” said Bell.
Bell said the need for these social-use spaces is amply illustrated by the numbers of people currently being arrested for public consumption. Plus, the Marijuana Policy Project shares de Blasio’s interest in ensuring that precautions are taken to avoid legal marijuana getting into the hands of his city’s youth.
“Thankfully, New York need not reinvent the wheel in setting its policies,” said Bell. “Other states have already implemented effective regulatory measures, as illustrated by the fact that teen use has not increased in states that have already legalized and regulated marijuana for adults. We look forward to continuing to provide information and policy expertise as New York examines this issue, and encourage the Mayor to assemble a diverse group of stakeholders for his task force, including cannabis consumers.“
TELL US, does your city arrest people for using or possessing cannabis in public?