Last week, Governor Andrew Cuomo expressed doubt that the proposal to legalize marijuana would pass during this legislative session. In response to this troubling news, the Progressive Caucus of the New York City Council urges state officials to do what is right for the state and approve the legislation before the session ends on June 19.
The Progressive Caucus has prioritized the decriminalization of marijuana at the city level, with a number of bills and resolutions from its #MarijuanaJustice legislative package passing in recent months. However, decriminalization alone is not enough; marijuana legalization with a strong economic justice component must be passed by Albany. In addition, any plan to legalize marijuana in New York must include the sealing of records, create a diverse and inclusive industry, and use revenue to reinvest in communities that have been impacted by prohibition.
Until marijuana is fully legalized, communities of color will continue to be overpoliced for marijuana-related offenses. Although low-level marijuana possession arrests are down compared to last year, Black and Latinx communities still experience higher rates of these arrests.
According to data from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services released this past Friday, in the first three months of this year, black New Yorkers continue to be arrested at a disproportionately higher rate than their white counterparts, a trend that seems to be exacerbating. Whereas black people made up 49 percent of low-level marijuana-related arrests in 2018, they made up 62 percent in 2019. Meanwhile, despite the fact that black and white people use marijuana at similar rates, white people made up just 4.2 percent of people arrested, down from seven percent in the same period last year.
New York State has the opportunity to reverse the harm done by decades of ill-conceived drug policy and provide equity and restitution to the communities that have been most impacted. We call on our leaders in Albany to legalize marijuana now.