hearing

New York, NY — On Wednesday, April 10, the New York City Council held a joint hearing on the remaining bills and resolutions from the Progressive Caucus’ #MarijuanaJustice legislative package. Chaired by Progressive Caucus Members Steve Levin and Carlina Rivera, the Committees on General Welfare and Hospitals heard testimonies from community members and advocates on the impact of marijuana policies on child welfare. Of particular concern to the Members of the Caucus was with the lack of consent policy in Health+Hospitals system regarding prenatal and postpartum drug testing on mothers of color, which can lead to child separation and decades of collateral consequences for parents, whose child welfare investigation case can stay on their record for up to 27 years.

To encourage transparency and to better understand the issue, New York City Council heard two bills related to reporting within the child welfare system. Intro 1161, sponsored by Progressive Caucus Member Donovan Richards, would require the New York City Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) to report the allegations that led to its receipt of a report or the opening of a case for investigation of child abuse or neglect, including a parent’s or caretaker’s marijuana usage. Intro 1426, sponsored by Progressive Caucus Member Antonio Reynoso, would require the ACS to provide an annual report to the Mayor and to the Council with information regarding the number of patients who were referred to ACS for investigation as a result of a positive drug screening performed at a facility operated by the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation. The bills would help the City understand how to prevent undue child welfare cases and avoid the negative impacts of child separation.

The Council also heard two resolutions from the #MarijuanaJustice package, sponsored by Progressive Caucus Members Brad Lander and Carlina Rivera. Resolution 740 calls for ACS to implement a policy that the possession or use of marijuana does not itself create an imminent risk of harm to a child, warranting the child’s removal, and Resolution 746 calls on the State to create clear and fair regulations for hospitals on drug testing those who are pregnant or giving birth, including informing patients of their rights before any discussion of drug use or drug testing.

During the hearing, Council Members Rivera and Levin expressed concern that NYC Health + Hospitals possesses no uniform policy to confirm consent from mothers who are being drug tested, instead relying solely on doctors’ notes. In response to this lack of policy, Council Member Reynoso stated, “This is an example of institutional racism. You’re institutionally allowing a questionable process that’s putting families in potential harm, especially black women.”

Among the panelists who provided testimony was Shakira Kennedy, who recounted her harrowing experience of being drug tested without her consent, which resulted in her being reported to ACS. After the birth of her twins, Ms. Kennedy and her twins were tested, and despite conflicting results, a case was opened against her. As a result, she had to attend multiple 5-hour long sessions of mandatory drug counseling programming with her few-day old twin babies, and the case appeared on her record.

As shown by Ms. Kennedy’s experience, the City still penalizes New Yorkers for usage and possession of marijuana – jeopardizing New Yorkers’ access to housing, child custody, and employment. Thus, it is the Caucus’ position that decriminalization alone is not enough; marijuana legalization with a strong economic justice component must be passed by Albany.

As legalization is being considered at the state level, the Progressive Caucus #MarijuanaJustice package includes four pieces of legislation and thirteen resolutions developed and sponsored by the Progressive Caucus to push the State for ethical legalization that prioritizes equity and restitution, reduces the collateral consequences from marijuana criminalization, and promotes policies that prioritize the inclusion of communities most harmed by marijuana criminalization. The package was created in conjunction with Drug Policy Alliance and is supported by Legal Aid, Bronx Defender Services, Citizen Action of New York, and Communities United for Police Reform.

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