New York, NYOn Tuesday, July 23, the New York City Council passed two pieces of legislation in the Progressive Caucus #MarijuanaJustice package to promote gender and racial justice and reduce the collateral consequences of marijuana criminalization on mothers of color.   Despite a concerted efforts by allies, led by the Drug Policy Alliance, to push ethical legalization at State level, marijuana was not legalized in New York State, and the City still penalizes New Yorkers for usage and possession of marijuana – jeopardizing New Yorkers’ access to housing, child custody, and employment.

These two resolutions from the #MarijuanaJustice package, sponsored by Progressive Caucus Members Brad Lander and Carlina Rivera, respectively, call for Administration for Child Services (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 (Resolution 740), and call 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 (Resolution 746).

The lack of clear consent policy in Health+Hospitals system regarding prenatal and postpartum drug testing on mothers of color is extremely concerning to Caucus Members, and can lead to child separation and decades of collateral consequences for parents, whose child welfare investigation case can stay on their record for decades.

An example is the case of Shakira Kennedy, who recounted her harrowing experience of being drug tested without her consent at a Council General Welfare hearing on the resolutions. The drug test 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. It is clear that despite ACS’ claims that it does not separate families based on marijuana usage or possession alone, in practice, families are still being penalized for perceived usage or possession.

The #MarijuanaJustice package was developed and sponsored by the Progressive Caucus to push the State for ethical legalization that prioritizes equity and restitution, reduces collateral consequences from marijuana prohibition, and promotes policies that prioritize the inclusion of communities most harmed by marijuana criminalization. Decriminalization alone is not enough; marijuana legalization with a strong economic justice component must be passed by Albany in the next legislative session.

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