Proposal Would Standardize Penalties, End Tens of Thousands of Annual Unlawful, Biased Marijuana Possession Arrests
Today in his State of the State address, Governor Cuomo made a passionate call for reforming New York’s marijuana possession laws in order to reduce unlawful, biased, and costly arrests. The governor noted the discrepancy in the law between public and private possession of small amounts of marijuana, and proposed standardizing penalties for possession.
In his prepared written statement, the governor referenced the original intent of the marijuana possession law from 1977: “The legislature finds that arrests, criminal prosecutions, and criminal penalties are inappropriate for people who possess small quantities of marihuana for personal use. Every year, this process needlessly scars thousands of lives and wastes millions of dollars in law enforcement resources, while detracting from the prosecution of serious crime.”
Today, marijuana possession is the number one arrest in New York City. The governor cited the harmful outcomes of these arrests – racial disparities, stigma, fiscal waste, criminalization - and called on the legislature to act: ”It’s not fair, it’s not right. It must end, and it must end now.”
A powerful statewide coalition of community groups, faith and civil rights leaders, parents and young people applauded the Governor’s strong leadership in tackling this issue.
“We cannot have the same laws applied differently to different groups of people when the dividing line is race,” said gabriel sayegh, New York state director for the Drug Policy Alliance. “The governor’s proposal is an essential step towards bringing greater fairness and equity to both our drug laws and policing practices in our state. The criminalization of our young people must end — the legislature must now act now to pass the governor’s bill.”
Last year, Governor Cuomo introduced similar legislation to reform the law, but it the Senate refused to act – despite the fact that the reform proposal was supported by law enforcement leaders throughout the state, including Commissioner Ray Kelly, all five City district attorneys, Rochester Police Chief James Sheppard, and many others.
“I hope Senator Skelos and the entire legislature heard Governor Cuomo loud and clear when he said it’s time to end marijuana arrests that ‘stigmatize and criminalize’ young people of color, which have been one of the leading consequences of stop and frisk,” said Alfredo Carrasquillo, VOCAL-NY’s Civil Rights Organizer. “Governor Cuomo’s right that these arrests mean more than a night in jail – they can have lasting effects on a person’s access to jobs, housing and a better future.”
“With stop and frisk and needless criminalization, too many of our young people are swept up in the criminal justice system. Governor Cuomo’s reform proposal is a critical step towards a brighter future for our youth,” said Kyung Ji Kate Rhee of Center for NuLeadership. “Instead of wasting money on these arrests, we should be investing in community development and resources that are far more effective at guiding our youth in the choices they make towards fulfilling their best potential.”
The need for reform is abundantly clear: In the last 15 years, over 600,000 people were arrested for marijuana possession, mostly in New York City. More than 50,000 people were arrested for marijuana possession in the City in 2011 alone, far exceeding the total marijuana arrests from 1981-1995. Most of those arrested, nearly 85%, are Black and Latino, mostly young men – despite federal government data on drug use showing that whites use marijuana at higher rates. The costs of these arrests to taxpayers is at least $75 million a year. Last year, the New York City Council passed a resolution calling on Albany to act. Governor Cuomo’s proposal would end tens of thousands of racially biased and unlawful marijuana possession.