New York Governor Calls For Cannabis Legalization Study

As the Uncle Cliffy team has pointed out in the past, cannabis legalization is overdue in New York State where Clifford Robinson was born and raised. With legalization pending in Vermont and a likely end to prohibition expected in New Jersey this year, the momentum for New York State to get on the right side of history will be greater than ever before.

To date, 8 states and Washington D.C. have already legalized cannabis. Legalization efforts are underway in a number of other states, including in the northeastern part of the United States. Every state that legalizes cannabis increases the chances of professional sports leagues ending cannabis prohibition, with New York being a particularly important domino given how many professional sports teams are located there.

This week New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo called for the creation of a cannabis legalization study which is something that the Uncle Cliffy team hopes serves as a stepping stone for legalization, and not just a means to maintain the status quo. Below is more information about the proposed study, via our friends at the Drug Policy Alliance:

In his address on the executive budget proposal for New York state on January 16, Governor Cuomo called for a state-funded study on the impacts of marijuana legalization in the health, economic, and criminal justice realms and the projected impacts for New York of legalization in neighboring states and jurisdictions. Drug Policy Alliance and the Start SMART (Sensible Marijuana Access through Regulated Trade) campaign just released two new related fact sheets, Marijuana Legalization in New York: Promising Economic Prospects and Ending Marijuana Prohibition: Impact of Legalization on Border States and Implications for New York.

Governor Cuomo’s call for studying marijuana legalization comes amid a wave of marijuana policy reform. Legislation to legalize marijuana for adult use is pending in New Jersey, where the recently-inaugurated governor has pledged to legalize marijuana in his first 100 days in office; New Hampshire’s House voted to legalize marijuana last Tuesday; and Vermont’s Senate approved a legalization bill last Wednesday, paving the way to become the first state to legalize through the legislative process (prior states were via ballot initiative). Massachusetts and Canada are in the process of implementing legalization and expect their legal markets to come online this summer.

Last week the New York State Assembly held a public hearing to discuss the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA, S.3040B/A.3506B) [video available here], a bill that would create a system to tax and regulate marijuana, legalizing the production, distribution, and use of marijuana for adults over the age of 21 and effectively end marijuana prohibition in New York. The implications of legalizing marijuana for New York’s criminal justice system, public health, and the state’s economy were highlighted at the hearing, which featured testimony calling for an end to marijuana prohibition from civil rights groups, criminal justice reformers, medical researchers and doctors, regulators from states with legal marijuana, medical marijuana advocates, policing experts, immigration rights advocates, former law enforcement, and drug policy reformers.

“I am pleased that Governor Cuomo is proposing funding for a study of legalizing adult use of marijuana.  Addressing our current outdated marijuana laws is a necessary part of any criminal justice reform agenda, and I look forward to sharing what I have learned in developing the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act as to how to create a more just approach to marijuana regulation. I firmly believe that New York can develop an approach to marijuana regulation that addresses public health concerns while reducing the exposure of so many people, and particularly young people of color, to interactions with the criminal justice system that have much more damaging life consequences than marijuana use,” said Senator Liz Krueger, the Senate sponsor of the MRTA.

“I applaud Governor Cuomo on agreeing to conduct a study to investigate the merits of legalizing marijuana. I look forward to the Department of Health’s report showing: the health benefits of successful pain management and social anxiety treatment, which can aid our fight in reducing the dependency on opioids; polling and other data points that confirm that the majority of New York State registered voters support legalization; creating a new inclusive economy for everyone and its respective revenue-generating potential; but most importantly for me is the expected positive social justice impact that can be had by decriminalizing marijuana. Dreams that are so often derailed by criminal records for youth of color will soon stay on track allowing them to become productive tax-paying members of our society,” stated Assemblywoman Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes, the Assembly sponsor of the MRTA.

Momentum for marijuana reform is building steadily in New York. A poll of New York voters released in late 2017 showed that 62% of New Yorkers support making marijuana use legal in New York for adults over 21, and more than 60% support taxing and regulating marijuana as a way to address the state’s looming budget deficit.

The proposed study, which Gov. Cuomo said would be conducted by the state’s Department of Health, has the potential to examine both the wide-ranging and damaging impacts of marijuana prohibition and the immensely promising economic prospects of legalizing marijuana for adult use in New York.

Legalizing marijuana for adult use in New York holds significant criminal justice reform potential. Under the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, which is currently pending in the legislature, people who have been convicted of low-level possession (including possession in public view) and low-level sale can have that offense vacated from their record. Other offenses related to possession or sale that were previously misdemeanors or felonies can be reclassified and sealed. People currently incarcerated for such offenses would either be released or have their sentence appropriately reduced pursuant to the new statute.

This is crucial because marijuana prohibition enforcement has devastated communities across New York State, primarily those of color and low-income communities. More than 800,000 people have been arrested for possession of small amounts of marijuana in New York State over the past 20 years, with over 700,000 arrests by the NYPD alone. As a result, hundreds of thousands of people must contend with criminal records that yield significant collateral consequences for them—and their families, including limited access to housing, employment, and education opportunities.

Legalizing and regulating marijuana will also provide an opportunity, due to the revenue it will generate, for the communities that have been most devastated to start to repair the harms of the drug war. The potential tax revenue for New York from a legal marijuana market is considerable: it is estimated that New Yorkers spend an estimated $3 billion per year on marijuana in the illicit market. An official study by the NYC Comptroller in 2013 estimated potential tax revenue for a legal marijuana market in NYC alone would be more than $400 million, and acknowledged that the actual revenue could be much higher.

Under the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, this substantial tax revenue from the legal marijuana market will be used to establish a Community Grants Reinvestment Fund to provide job training, promote adult education, support youth development programming, establish or expand community centers, bolster re-entry services for the formerly incarcerated, and otherwise support community-focused programming in communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the drug war. Additional funding from the regulated marijuana market will be directed to assisting the state department of education to keep public schools open and provide a quality education to New York’s children. Another block of funding will be dedicated to public health initiatives, including drug treatment programs to help combat the opioid crisis, science-based public education, and research on public health impacts of marijuana legalization.

“Marijuana legalization is already working in states across the country, and New York should not be left behind. We have the potential to reduce incarceration, raise revenue, and spur job growth. Failed marijuana policies have hurt communities for decades, and we are pleased to see that Governor Cuomo is advancing a study on marijuana legalization that will move us toward more sensible drug policies,” said Alyssa Aguilera, Co-Executive Director, VOCAL-NY.

“We welcome Governor Cuomo’s proposal to study marijuana regulation and taxation, and urge the Department of Health to conduct and release their report swiftly. In the meantime, New York should follow our neighbor Vermont by immediately legalizing personal cultivation and possession of marijuana,” said Doug Greene, of Empire State NORML.

“We look forward to the study proposed by the Governor and urge New York policy makers to get on board with legalizing marijuana for adult use, which is supported by a majority of New Yorkers. There is ample evidence that ending marijuana prohibition is a smart way for Gov. Cuomo and the Legislature to uphold the rights of all New Yorkers and support economic growth. Ultimately, the best way to address the disparities and challenges posed by prohibition is to create a system to tax and regulate marijuana that will repair and reinvest in communities that have been most harmed by the marijuana arrest crusade,” said Kassandra Frederique, New York State Director for the Drug Policy Alliance.

###
Additional detailed information on the implications of marijuana legalization for criminal justice, public health, and New York’s economy is available at the Start SMART (Sensible Marijuana Access through Regulated Trade) campaign website:
• The Costs of Marijuana Prohibition Enforcement: The Criminal Justice System
• Marijuana Legalization in New York: Promising Economic Prospects
• Ending Marijuana Prohibition: Impact of Legalization on Border States and Implications for New York
• Why Legalizing Marijuana is the SMART Choice: The Benefits of Ending Marijuana Prohibition
• Debunking the “Gateway” Myth

New York Holds Historic Public Hearing On Cannabis Legalization

On January 11, 2018, the New York State Assembly Standing Committees on Codes, Health, and Alcohol and Drug Abuse held a public hearing to discuss the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA, S.3040B/A.3506B), a bill that would legalize the production, distribution, and use of marijuana for adults over the age of 21. This bill will effectively end marijuana prohibition in New York State and would create a system to tax and regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol.

The hearing comes amid a wave of marijuana policy reform nationally. Increasingly, jurisdictions and legislators across the country are realizing that marijuana prohibition has been ineffective, unjust, and disproportionately enforced and are working to implement regulatory systems that are fair and effective. Eight states and the District of Columbia have voted to legalize marijuana for adult use and legalization bills are pending in New Jersey, where the governor-elect has pledged to legalize marijuana in his first 100 days in office; New Hampshire, whose House voted to legalize marijuana this Tuesday; and Vermont, whose Senate approved a legalization bill on Wednesday, paving the way to become the first state to legalize through the legislative process (prior states were via ballot initiative). Massachusetts and Canada are in the process of implementing legalization and expect their legal markets to come online this summer.

At the federal level, last week U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the Cole memo, which previously instructed the Department of Justice to allow states to implement their own marijuana laws with limited federal interference, setting up a showdown with states that have legal marijuana markets and signaling an attempted double down on the draconian war on drugs.

Momentum for marijuana reform is building steadily in New York. A poll of New York voters released in late 2017 showed that 62% of New Yorkers support making marijuana use legal in New York for adults over 21, and more than 60% prefer using the revenue from a legal marijuana market to address New York’s budget deficit over other options for closing the looming budget gap.

“After decades of arresting marijuana users, the drug war has failed to prevent marijuana use or prevent minors from accessing marijuana. Existing marijuana laws have created a violent, illegal drug market that consumes $675 million of New York’s dollars in criminal justice resources each year. Drug laws have also created a permanent underclass with people unable to find jobs after a conviction. One of the most damaging issues derived from the war on drugs is that the policies are inherently racist.” said Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes, the Assembly sponsor of the MRTA.

“Marijuana prohibition is a failed and outdated policy that has done tremendous damage to too many of our communities. Allowing adult personal use, with appropriate regulation and taxation, will end the heavily racialized enforcement that disproportionately impacts African American and Latino New Yorkers, locking them out of jobs, housing, and education, and feeding the prison pipeline. It’s time for smart, responsible, 21st century policy that reflects the best science and the real needs of New Yorkers,” said Senator Liz Krueger, the Senate sponsor of the MRTA.

The hearing featured testimony calling for an end to marijuana prohibition in New York from a broad spectrum of advocates, including representatives from civil rights, criminal justice reform, medical researchers and doctors, regulators from states with legal marijuana, medical marijuana advocates, policing experts, immigration rights advocates, former law enforcement, and drug policy reform.

Advocates highlighted the highly destructive impact of the ongoing marijuana arrest crusade and the extreme racial disparities: New York State has arrested 800,000 for possession of small amounts of marijuana over the last 20 years, with over 700,000 arrests by the NYPD alone. Marijuana possession arrests still topped 23,000 in 2016 and the collateral consequences stemming from marijuana possession arrests remain. Although drug use occurs at similar rates across racial and ethnic groups, Black and Latino individuals are arrested for possessing marijuana at vastly disproportionate rates. In 2016, more than 85% of all those arrested for marijuana possession were Black and Latino; nearly 70% of those arrested were under 30 years old; and over a third were under 21 years old.

Testimony at the hearing also underscored marijuana legalization through the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act as a criminal justice reform issue, as the MRTA will eliminate one of the top misdemeanor arrests from the state’s penal law; will enable those with previous convictions for marijuana-related offenses to have those offenses either sealed, vacated, or otherwise reclassified, thereby increasing opportunity for thousands of New Yorkers; and remove a positive marijuana test as justification for violating a person’s parole or probation. It will also address the devastating impacts of marijuana prohibition in the fields of immigration and family law, and protect against discrimination in housing and employment based on a prior marijuana arrest or off-the-clock marijuana use.

“Instead of criminalizing people for marijuana possession and leaving them with criminal records that land them in deportation, the money saved must be invested into communities of color who have borne the brunt of this form of hyper-criminalization to create economic justice to restore the harms of this failed policy,” said Anthony Posada, Community Justice Unit of the Legal Aid Society.

Doctors and medical researchers present testified that access to a legal marijuana market, both medical marijuana and adult use, has been associated with significantly lower deaths from opioid overdose than in states without legal marijuana deaths—data from the researchers’ study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association show a 25 percent drop in deadly overdoses, resulting in 1,700 fewer deaths in 2010 alone—pointing to marijuana as a potential tool for people struggling to end opioid use. Given marijuana’s pain-relieving benefits, it presents a promising solution to reducing the risks for misuse, dependence, overdose associated with opioid use. Marijuana alone will not be the answer to New York’s problem with opioid misuse and overdose deaths, but available evidence indicates that it should be used with other harm reduction strategies as part of a necessarily diverse and innovative approach to this combatting this crisis.

“The available evidence suggests that medical marijuana laws are associated with decreases in prescriptions for pain medications and decreases in opioid overdose fatalities,” said Julia H. Arnsten, MD, MPH, Professor of Medicine and Chief Division of Internal Medicine, Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine [speaking on her own behalf]. “While decriminalization and regulation policies are relatively new and studies are preliminary, the available evidence suggests that decriminalization and regulation of marijuana can further expand access to marijuana for medical patients and decrease use of opioid pain relievers.”

Witnesses with experience regulating marijuana markets in other states and drug policy reform advocates testified about outcomes in the eight states and the District of Columbia have now ended marijuana prohibition. Revenue from the regulated marijuana market is giving those states an opportunity to rebuild crumbling infrastructure, support education, and invest in communities. Data on marijuana use and public safety from states with legal markets show that marijuana legalization has had no discernible negative impact in those areas. And, most importantly, residents of those states no longer face the threat of criminalization because of their personal use.

“Given the data and evidence to date, the legalization of cannabis has been successful in jurisdictions across the country so far. Youth use and access has decreased in Colorado since 2012. In Washington D.C., there have been significant decreases in arrests for marijuana–from 4,000 arrests prior to only 12 following legalization,” said Dr. Malik Burnett, Resident Physician in the Johns Hopkins General Preventive Medicine Program [speaking on his own behalf].

Testimony also covered how the MRTA encourages diversity and builds inclusivity in New York’s marijuana industry by only explicitly barring people with business-related convictions (such as fraud or tax evasion) from receiving licenses. To increase gender diversity in ownership within the marijuana industry, the MRTA requires entities that receive a license to outline specific actions they will take to produce a workforce that resembles the community in which the license is used, in line with New York’s Minority and Women-Owned Businesses initiative.

“With marijuana legalization we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be honest and intentional in addressing the past harms conducted by our respective states in the name of the war on drugs,” said Shaleen Title, Commissioner with the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission [speaking on her own behalf] and founding board member of the Minority Cannabis Business Association. “The worst thing we could do right now would be to regress to a time when prohibition and regressive policies like the Rockefeller Drug Laws took root. I hope New York will join Massachusetts instead in creating the future that most Americans want – an equitable, safely regulated industry with new jobs and tax revenue.”

Other advocates touched on how marijuana prohibition impacts noncitizen immigrants. Because our country’s harsh immigration laws mandate severe punishment for a wide range of drug offenses, New York’s marijuana policies help fuel the mass deportation agenda. The past year saw a 900% increase in courthouse arrests of immigrants by ICE agents in New York, in many cases when someone who is a noncitizen was appearing for a minor offense, including low-level marijuana possession.

“It is time that New York State joins the cadre of progressive states that are acting smart on marijuana regulation. New York City was for many years the marijuana arrest capital of the world and the devastation that wreaked on people of color and marginalized communities cannot be overstated. We need to pivot and address the pressing needs of regulation while simultaneously eliminating the criminal consequences of marijuana possession and restoring the previous harms that prohibitionist modalities created. In short, we need New York State to help lead a marijuana revolution, because it’s just, it’s rational, and it’s time,” said Juan Cartagena, President and General Counsel of LatinoJustice PRLDEF.

“We at National Action Network understand that marijuana legalization will not be a panacea, but we do believe that marijuana legalization is a necessary step in our fight for a criminal justice system which is free of racial bias,” said Brandon Hicks of National Action Network.

“In the last five years, people of color made up 77 percent of marijuana possession arrests in Erie County, though they make up just 18 percent of the population,” said Andrea Ó Súilleabháin of the Partnership for the Public Good. “We know that young people of color use marijuana at slightly lower rates than white people, so this disparity cannot be explained by use. This is one local result of the war on drugs, which has tended to target low-level offenses in non-white, low-income communities. This unequal enforcement of marijuana prohibition comes at a high cost for communities of color.”

“Marijuana legalization is a smart choice for New Yorkers because criminalizing marijuana drives broken windows policing; targets near-exclusively the poor and people of color; leads to unnecessary interactions between citizens and police officers; creates the traumatizing experience of arrest and prosecution, and in some cases deportation; and costs taxpayers an absolute fortune. As long as marijuana is criminalized, we cannot say that New York is a progressive state,” said Scott Hechinger, Senior Staff Attorney and Director of Policy, Brooklyn Defender Services.

“Prohibition has played a significant role in devastating low-income communities of color through racially biased enforcement and has often come with steep collateral consequences. We believe it’s time for a new approach and that approach shouldn’t involve criminalizing New York’s most vulnerable populations,” said Alyssa Aguilera, Co-Executive Director of VOCAL-NY.

“The vast majority of adults are unharmed by the responsible use of cannabis. The health risks of cannabis misuse are significantly less than those of alcohol and tobacco. And evidence does not support a causal ‘gateway’ relationship between the use of cannabis and the later use of more harmful drugs,” said Dr. Julie Holland, a psychiatrist specializing in psychopharmacology with a private practice in New York City. “Legalization and regulation benefits public health by enabling government oversight of the production, testing, labeling, distribution, and sale of cannabis. I encourage the state of New York to join the growing number of states that are embracing the future, to legalize, tax, and regulate the sale of cannabis for adult use.”

“New York’s marijuana arrest crusade has resulted in significant harms for those who are most vulnerable and has been used as a justification for the hyper-policing of communities of color, funneling tens of thousands of New Yorkers into the maze of the criminal justice system every year and putting people at risk of deportation, losing custody of their children, and barring them from employment and housing for nothing more than possessing small amounts of marijuana,” said Kassandra Frederique, New York State Director for the Drug Policy Alliance. “As New York finally sheds its embarrassing distinction of being the marijuana arrest capital of the world, we must repair the harms of prohibition and end the biased policing practices that have ruined the lives of so many young Black and Latino New Yorkers. Ultimately, the best way to address the disparities and challenges posed by prohibition is to legalize and regulate marijuana in New York.”

Gov. Cuomo and many New York State Senators and Assemblymembers as well as elected officials across the state have publicly vowed to fight the Trump administration to protect New Yorkers’ rights when it comes to immigration, women’s rights, and civil liberties. We need those who claim to be allies of the most vulnerable New Yorkers to pass legislation to tax and regulate marijuana, so we can end the marijuana arrest crusade and focus on building up our state instead of destroying lives.

Source: Drug Policy Alliance

Another Poll Shows Record Level Support For Cannabis Legalization

When it comes to the effort to end cannabis prohibition in professional sports, public views about cannabis are very important. After all, it’s the fans that buy the tickets to games, purchase league merchandise, and watch league broadcasts that generate profits for pro sports leagues.

In theory, if the fans support a change in professional sports leagues, the leagues should listen. You will be hardpressed to find something that sports fans support more than ending cannabis prohibition. The results of another poll were released this week which found a record level of support for cannabis legalization in America. Below is more information about it via a press release from our friends at NORML:

Sixty-one percent of Americans believe the adult use of marijuana should be legal, according to polling data compiled by the Pew Research Center. The percentage is the highest level of support ever reported by the firm, which has polled Americans’ views regarding legalization since 1969.

Support is strongest among African Americans (71 percent), Democrats (69 percent), and Independents (65 percent). Support was weakest among Republicans (43 percent) and white evangelical Protestants (38 percent). However, among self-identified Republicans under 40 years of age, 62 percent favor legalization.

Pew’s results are similar to those of other recent national polls. For instance, an October Gallup poll found that 64 percent of the public support making adult cannabis use legal. A Quinnipiac poll released on Thursday reports that 58 percent of voters nationwide back adult use legalization, and 91 percent believe that medical cannabis should be legal. That poll also reports that 70 percent of voters oppose federal interference in state marijuana policies.

New York To Hold Public Hearing On Cannabis Legalization

Clifford ‘Uncle Cliffy’ Robinson is proud to have been born and raised in New York State. Growing up in Buffalo, New York Robinson saw firsthand the failures of cannabis prohibition. A number of other Uncle Cliffy team members are either from Buffalo or still reside there. That is why we fight so hard to free the plant in New York State.

With news breaking today that Vermont’s Legislature has passed a cannabis legalization measure, and New Jersey likely to follow suit this year, the Uncle Cliffy team is hopeful that reform victories in the Northeastern part of the United States will help push legalization over the top in New York State. Maine and Massachusetts have already legalized cannabis, and Connecticut and other Northeastern states are exploring ways to end cannabis prohibition too.

The momentum for New York State to legalize cannabis is greater now than ever before. Tomorrow a public hearing will be held in New York State to discuss cannabis legalization. If you are in the area the Uncle Cliffy team strongly urges you to attend and to contact your legislators in New York State and urge them to support sensible cannabis policy. Below is more information about tomorrow’s hearing, via a press release from the Drug Policy Alliance:

On January 11, 2018, the New York State Assembly Standing Committees on Codes, Health, and Alcohol and Drug Abuse will convene a public hearing to discuss the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA, S.3040A/A.3506A), a bill that would legalize the production, distribution, and use of marijuana for adults over the age of 21. This bill will effectively end marijuana prohibition in New York State and would create a system to tax and regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol.

Increasingly, jurisdictions and legislators across the country are realizing that marijuana prohibition has been ineffective, unjust, and disproportionately enforced and are working to implement regulatory systems that are fair and effective. A poll of New York voters released in late 2017 showed that 62% of New Yorkers support making marijuana use legal in New York for adults over 21, and more than 60% support taxing and regulating marijuana as a way to address the state’s looming budget deficit.

The Assembly hearing comes on the heels of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinding the Cole memo, which previously instructed the Department of Justice to allow states to implement their own marijuana laws with limited federal interference.

Thursday’s Assembly hearing will feature testimony calling for an end to marijuana prohibition in New York from a broad spectrum of advocates, including representatives from civil rights, criminal justice reform, medical researchers and doctors, regulators from states with legal marijuana, medical marijuana advocates, policing experts, immigration rights advocates, former law enforcement, and drug policy reform. Representatives from the Start SMART NY campaign (SMART stands for Sensible Marijuana Access through Regulated Trade), a coalition that supports ending marijuana prohibition in New York, will testify at the hearing.

What:  Assembly hearing on the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act
When:  Thursday, January 11, 2018
Where:  250 Broadway, NYC (Assembly Hearing Room 1923, 19th Floor)
Live stream available at: http://nyassembly.gov/av/hearings/
Who:  Broad coalition of advocates, including:

•    Kassandra Frederique – Drug Policy Alliance
•    Juan Cartagena – LatinoJustice
•    National Action Network – Brandon Hicks
•    Scott Hechinger – Brooklyn Defender Services
•    Anthony Posada – Legal Aid Society
•    Prof. Alex Vitale – CUNY Brooklyn College
•    Shaleen Title – Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission, Minority Cannabis Business Association
•    Cristina Buccola – Attorney in private practice, experience as counsel for Oregon cannabis businesses Dr. Julia Arnsten – Chief, Division of General Internal Medicine, Montefiore Hospital
•    Dr. Julie Holland – Psychiatrist in private practice
•    Dr. Malik Burnett – Resident Physician in the Johns Hopkins General Preventive Medicine Program
•    David Holland – NY Cannabis Bar Association, Empire State NORML
•    Alyssa Aguilera – VOCAL-NY
•    Andrea Ó Súilleabháin – Partnership for the Public Good

The ongoing marijuana arrest crusade has led to more than 800,000 people being arrested for possession of small amounts of marijuana in New York State over the past 20 years, with over 700,000 arrests by the NYPD alone. On average, 60 New Yorkers are arrested every day for marijuana possession, making marijuana possession one of the top arrests in the state. Although drug use and drug selling occur at similar rates across racial and ethnic groups, Black and Latino individuals are arrested for possessing marijuana at vastly disproportionate rates. In 2016, more than 85% of all those arrested for marijuana possession were Black and Latino; nearly 70% of those arrested were under 30 years old; and over a third were under 21 years old.

“New York’s marijuana arrest crusade has resulted in significant harms for those who are most vulnerable and has been used as a justification for the hyper-policing of communities of color, funneling tens of thousands of New Yorkers into the maze of the criminal justice system every year and putting people at risk of deportation, losing custody of their children, and barring them from employment and housing for nothing more than possessing small amounts of marijuana,” said Kassandra Frederique, New York State Director for the Drug Policy Alliance. “As New York finally sheds its embarrassing distinction of being the marijuana arrest capital of the world, we must repair the harms of prohibition and end the biased policing practices that have ruined the lives of so many young Black and Latino New Yorkers. Ultimately, the best way to address the disparities and challenges posed by prohibition is to legalize and regulate marijuana in New York.”

Will 2018 Be A Big Year For The Sports Cannabis Movement?

Last year was a big year for the sports cannabis movement. An ever-increasing number of professional athletes, both current and retired, are joining the movement in an effort to free the plant in professional sports leagues as well as in society. What will 2018 bring? Will it be an even bigger year for the sports cannabis movement compared to 2017?

On the first day of 2018, the Uncle Cliffy team feels that it was important to look forward to the upcoming year. It’s anyone’s guess as to what pro sports leagues’ leadership will do, or not do when it comes to cannabis policy. The Uncle Cliffy team is hopeful that leagues like the National Basketball Association (NBA), National Football League (NFL), and Major League Baseball (MLB) will get on the right side of history and let their players make the safer choice if they want to.

When professional sports leagues choose to prohibit cannabis use by their players, the leagues are establishing cannabis policies based on political views and not science. Because of that, any political victories experienced in society have an impact on the effort to end cannabis prohibition in professional sports. 2018 is an election year and its already shaping up to be very promising for cannabis reform.

As of right now, there are 8 states that have legalized cannabis for adult use and 29 states that have legalized cannabis for medical use. Washington D.C. has also legalized cannabis for both medical and adult use. Multiple states are expected to vote on medical cannabis initiatives in 2018, as well as at least one state voting on an adult-use legalization initiative.

Oklahoma, Missouri, and Utah are all expected to vote on medical cannabis initiatives in 2018. Oklahoma’s initiative has already made the ballot, and advocates are waiting on Oklahoma’s Governor to decide if the vote on the initiative will take place during the primary election (June) or the general election (November).

Efforts in Missouri and Utah are currently gathering signatures in the hopes of placing medical cannabis on the ballot in November. All three states are home to professional sports teams.

Michigan activists turned in hundreds of thousands of signatures for an adult-use initiative in an attempt to make the November ballot. The initiative will be put in front of voters on Election Day if enough of the signatures are determined to be valid. Advocates in Ohio recently announced that they will also be pushing to get an adult-use initiative on the ballot in November. Michigan and Ohio are both home to several professional sports teams.

Every state that has legalized cannabis for adult use so far has done so via the citizen initiative process. However, multiple states are in the running in 2018 to be the first state to legalize cannabis for adult use via legislative action. Vermont and New Jersey both seem to be the most likely to legalize cannabis in 2018 via legislative action.

Vermont and New Jersey are not the official home of an NBA, NFL, or MLB team, but the New York Giants and New York Jets both play their home games in Metlife Stadium which are located in New Jersey. If either or both states legalize cannabis for adult use, it will be very significant and will help add to the sports cannabis movement’s momentum.

Efforts in other states are also underway, and the Uncle Cliffy team is rooting for all of them. Every state that reforms its cannabis laws increases the chances that professional sports leagues will do the same. Players want reform, fans want reform, and even members of team’s leadership and the sports media community want reform. 2018 will hopefully be the year that the sports cannabis movement reaches critical mass and puts enough pressure on the leagues that they free the plant!

Connecticut: Hartford City Council Unanimously Endorses Cannabis Legalization

Clifford Robinson played college basketball at the University of Connecticut (UConn) from 1986-1989. He helped lead the UConn Huskies to the NIT championship in 1988 and is a member of the UConn Men’s Basketball All-Century team.

Robinson is also a proud member of the Connecticut Coalition to Regulate Marijuana. The Connecticut Coalition to Regulate Marijuana sent out the following press release with amazing news out of Hartford yesterday. See below:

At a meeting Monday evening, the Hartford Court of Common Council voted unanimously in favor of a resolution in support of making cannabis legal and regulated for adults in Connecticut.

The resolution specifically recommends that the Hartford Delegation of elected representatives support the passage of state legislation to legalize and tax cannabis in 2018 and insist on measures to ensure racial equity in ownership and employment in the resulting cannabis industry. It also directs the city to conduct an economic impact study for a potential cannabis industry in Hartford and hold public forums to hear from residents.

“By passing this resolution, we put ourselves in a position to ensure the implementation of marijuana regulation is grounded in racial and economic justice,” said Hartford City Councilwoman Wildaliz Bermudez, who sponsored the resolution.

“The city of Hartford should be commended for publicly endorsing legalization and joining the voices throughout the state that are calling for sensible marijuana policies,” said Sam Tracy, director of the Connecticut Coalition to Regulate Marijuana. “The legislature should heed this growing chorus for change and make regulating marijuana for adults a priority in 2018.”

A Sacred Heart University poll released in October showed that 71% of Connecticut residents support legalizing and taxing marijuana for adults.

Marijuana is legal for adults in eight states, including Massachusetts and Maine, and the District of Columbia. At least 21 states are expected to have bills to regulate marijuana introduced in their 2018 legislative sessions.

# # #

The Connecticut Coalition to Regulate Marijuana is a coalition of citizens, organizations, and community leaders working to end marijuana prohibition in Connecticut and replace it with a system in which marijuana is regulated and taxed similarly to alcohol. For more information, visit https://www.regulatect.org/

New York State: New Poll Shows 2 To 1 Support For Legal Cannabis

Most of the Uncle Cliffy team, including Clifford Robinson himself, were born and raised in New York State (Buffalo). We fight to end cannabis prohibition wherever it exists, but we especially work hard when it comes to New York State. Cannabis prohibition has a disproportionate impact on New York’s minority communities. For instance in Erie County (which includes Buffalo) African Americans are 13.5% of the population, but comprise over 71% of cannabis possession arrests according to a recent report.

In New York City, African American and Latinos are 51% of the total population, but comprise 86% of cannabis possession violations according to a recent review of arrest data by the Drug Policy Alliance. That is obviously unacceptable. Fortunately a new poll shows overwhelming support for cannabis legalization in New York State, which is hopefully something that lawmakers will take notice of and do something to free the plant. Below is a press release about the new poll results, via the Drug Policy Alliance:

new poll shows that 62% of New York voters support making marijuana use legal for adults 21 and older, with only 28% opposed. The poll, conducted by Emerson College and commissioned by the Marijuana Policy Project Foundation and the Drug Policy Alliance, was conducted from Nov. 16-18 and surveyed 600 registered voters from around the state.

The poll also found that voters were far more supportive of legalizing and taxing marijuana than other options for addressing the state’s budget deficit. Sixty percent of respondents supported legalizing and taxing marijuana to help address New York’s budget deficit, with 28% opposed. Between 15% and 27% of voters supported each of the other options presented — increasing sales or income taxes, increasing tolls, or cutting public education or other services.

“The strong support for legal marijuana use challenges New York elected officials who continue to support ineffective, racially biased, and unjust enforcement of marijuana laws. This poll signals that New Yorkers favor using revenue from a legal marijuana market to address our budget deficit and lawmakers would be wise to heed their opinion,” said Kassandra Frederique, New York State Director for the Drug Policy Alliance. “How New York decides to reform marijuana laws provides an opportunity to repair the significant harms prohibition causes in vulnerable communities across the state by centering racial and economic justice.”

“This should be a wake-up call to lawmakers: New Yorkers want their state to take a sensible, humane approach to marijuana policy,” said Landon Dais, political director of MPP of New York. “New York should stop wasting resources punishing otherwise law-abiding residents for using a substance that is safer than alcohol. It’s time to take marijuana off of the criminal market, so we can create good jobs, build the economy, and fund essential services.”

Support shown in this poll for making marijuana legal in New York is in line with a Gallup poll released in October that showed 64% support for legalization nationally. Eight states, including Massachusetts, have enacted laws legalizing and regulating marijuana for adults, all through the ballot initiative process. New Jersey, Vermont, and neighboring Canada are expected to approve legislation making marijuana legal for adults in 2018, and lawmakers in Connecticut and several other states are seriously considering the issue.

Source: Drug Policy Alliance press release

Michigan Legalization Campaign Submits Signatures To Put Issue On 2018 Ballot

The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol turned in more than 360,000 signatures today calling for its marijuana legalization initiative to be placed on Michigan’s November 2018 ballot. The state Board of Canvassers approved ballot language on May 18 of this year. Shortly afterward, the campaign began its 180-day statewide signature collection effort using both volunteer and paid signature collectors.

“Collecting enough signatures to get on the ballot is always a massive undertaking and we’re thrilled to have gathered more than 100,000 signatures beyond the 252,000 required by the state,” said Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Spokesperson Josh Hovey. ”Just like with alcohol, marijuana prohibition has been a huge failure. Instead of wasting law enforcement resources on a substance that is proven to be less harmful than either alcohol or tobacco, our initiative creates a tightly regulated system that will generate significant revenue for the state that will help fund our roads, public schools and local governments – three of Michigan’s most underfunded needs.”

If ultimately passed by Michigan voters in November 2018, the initiative would:

  • Legalize personal possession, cultivation and use of limited amounts of cannabis for adults 21 and older;
  • Legalize the cultivation of industrial hemp (used to make textiles, biodegradable plastics, food, construction materials and even fuel);
  • License marijuana businesses that cultivate, process, test, transport and sell marijuana;
  • Protect consumers with proper testing and safety regulations for retail marijuana;
  • Tax marijuana at retail levels with a 10 percent excise tax and 6 percent sales tax; and
  • Local governments will have the choice of whether and where to allow marijuana businesses in their community. (This takes marijuana sales out of neighborhoods and into a regulated spaces where IDs are checked and products are tested for safety.)

The campaign is proud to have the support from both national and local advocacy organizations including the Marijuana Policy Project, the National Cannabis Industry Association, the ACLU of Michigan, the Drug Policy Alliance, the National Patients Rights Association, Michigan NORML and MI Legalize.

“It is unconscionable for our state to continue to spend tax dollars to arrest, prosecute and crowd the courts and our jails with people arrested for marijuana possession. To make matters worse, this war on marijuana has been waged with staggering racial bias,” said Kary L. Moss, executive director of the ACLU of Michigan. “When our community members are arrested for possessing even tiny amounts of marijuana, they can be disqualified from public housing and student financial aid, lose or find it more difficult to obtain employment, lose custody of their child, and be deported. There is nothing practical or fair about the continued aggressive policing of marijuana.”

For more information about the ballot initiative, including full language of the proposed law, please visit www.RegulateMI.org.

###

For more information about the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, please visit RegulateMI.org.

Source – Campaign press release

New York: Buffalo Report Shows Stark Cannabis Arrest Disparities

Yesterday, the Partnership for the Public Good, a Buffalo community-based think tank, introduced a report highlighting marijuana arrest disparities in Buffalo, New York. The report, Advancing Racial Equity and Public Health: Smarter Marijuana Laws in Western New York, reveals the city of Buffalo’s marijuana policing practices to be as pervasive as the practices witnessed in New York City in their targeting of low-income communities of color.

The report analyzed marijuana arrest data and the populations most impacted by the enforcement of marijuana prohibition and found that, similar to New York City, those being arrested for low-level marijuana possession in Buffalo were largely young people and largely people of color.

“In the last five years, people of color made up 77 percent of marijuana possession arrests in Erie County, though they make up just 18 percent of the population,” said Andrea Ó Súilleabháin of the Partnership for the Public Good.

“We know that young people of color use marijuana at slightly lower rates than white people, so this disparity cannot be explained by use. This is one local result of the war on drugs, which has tended to target low-level offenses in non-white, low-income communities,” continued Andrea Ó Súilleabháin. “This unequal enforcement of marijuana prohibition comes at a high cost for communities of color.”

Advocates in the criminal justice field from across the state have pushed for the decriminalization of low-level marijuana possession for years citing the racially disproportionate enforcement and the devastating collateral consequences that can accompany a marijuana arrest or conviction.

“Despite the fact that NY has decriminalized possessing small amounts of marijuana, hundreds of people are arrested for it every year in Buffalo. Even if they do not go to jail, the charges can be devastating to their prospects for jobs, loans, student aid, housing, benefits and child custody,” said Rebecca Town of the Legal Aid Bureau of Buffalo. “The arrests also create a huge financial burden between the court fees, fines, and co-pays for substance abuse counseling. Not to mention time away from work or school and childcare costs required for court appearances and counseling.”

Buffalo Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes was joined by national and local organizations as she called on New York State to follow the example of California, Colorado, and other jurisdictions by ending marijuana prohibition and creating a system to tax and regulate marijuana.

“Communities of color have been on the frontlines of the failed war on drugs, bearing the heaviest burden in arrests, incarceration and ultimately exclusion in economic opportunities. New York State has made steps on reforming draconian mandatory minimum sentencing however, this tough on crime approach for low level possession and nonviolent offences has to stop. We are stifling economic opportunity for all, and breaking apart families. Open Buffalo and allies are working on a local level to repair relationships between law enforcement and communities however, state action is needed to untie the hands of law enforcement,” said Franchelle Parker of Open Buffalo.

Eight states and the District of Columbia have now ended marijuana prohibition and instituted policies to tax and regulate marijuana — moving oversight of marijuana policies from the criminal justice system to regulatory bodies. Data from those states on trends in use and public safety show that marijuana legalization has had no discernible negative impact. And most importantly, people are no longer being confronted daily with the threat of criminalization because of their use.

Assemblymember Peoples-Stokes has been a leading voice in the New York State Legislature on marijuana reform since 2013 when she introduced the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, a bill that would legalize the production, distribution, and use of marijuana for adults over the age of 21. The bill would effectively end marijuana prohibition in New York State and would create a system to tax and regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol.

“Historical data shows that minorities and whites use marijuana at roughly the same rate, but blacks and Latinos are almost four times more likely to be arrested for pot,” said Assemblywoman Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes. “This criminal record follows them, as they can be discriminated against for employment, housing, and access to education and public benefits, and they’re essentially locked into a second-class status for life. This legislation works towards the prevention of a criminal record to afford young adults basic opportunities that they would otherwise never have available to them.”

The MRTA legislation is currently being supported by a statewide campaign, of which Buffalo advocates Partnership for the Public Good and Open Buffalo are coalition partners. The campaign, Start SMART NY is dedicated to ending senseless marijuana arrests and citations, creating a public dialogue on collateral consequences and the hyper criminalization of communities, transforming stigma, and building economic power.

“As states across the country continue to re-envision their marijuana policies, it is imperative that New York and New Yorkers also engage in a thorough review of the efficacy of marijuana prohibition. We have watched as other states have been able to re-direct state resources from criminalizing this low-level offense to developing communities. We think this is a sensible response to the problem of marijuana arrests and that it is time that we end the marijuana arrest crusades being waged from Buffalo to Brooklyn,” said Chris Alexander of the Drug Policy Alliance.

Source: Drug Policy Alliance

Report Highlights Alarming Racial Disparities In Buffalo’s Cannabis Arrests

Clifford Robinson is very proud to say that he was born and raised in Buffalo, New York (Go Bills!). The same is true for other members of the Uncle Cliffy team, many of which still reside in Buffalo. Cliff and the Uncle Cliffy team have witnessed firsthand the failures of cannabis prohibition in Buffalo, which is why we fight so hard to free the plant there, and everywhere else that prohibition exists.

Below is information about a report highlighting the alarming racial disparities in cannabis arrests in Buffalo, New York. A press conference is planned for next week, details of which can also be found below, via a press release from the Drug Policy Alliance and Start Smart New York:

On November 14th, the Partnership for the Public Good will release a report highlighting marijuana prohibition enforcement practices in Buffalo and their disparate impact on communities of color.

The report, Advancing Racial Equity and Public Health: Smarter Marijuana Laws in Western New York, shows that marijuana prohibition in Buffalo has been largely enforced in communities of color and that the harms of prohibition—including increased barriers to higher education, housing, and employment opportunities—have been born almost entirely by Buffalo’s Black and Latino residents.

The report shows that from 2012 to 2016, people of color represented 76% of the arrests for low-level marijuana possession, despite being 18% of Erie County’s residents. In the city of Buffalo, Black people—especially youth—are 7 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people. These extreme disparities in arrests exist despite government data showing that young white people use marijuana at higher rates.

This event will also will highlight legislative solutions to end the marijuana arrest crusade. The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, which was reintroduced in June 2016 by Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes, would legalize marijuana for adult use in New York and reclassify or seal records for prior marijuana arrests. Advocates across the city of Buffalo are joining Assm. Peoples-Stokes in calling for an end to marijuana prohibition and signing on to the Start SMART NY campaign to tax and regulate marijuana.

This report includes extensive analyses of marijuana arrest data from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services.

What: Press Conference and Panel Discussion for release of Advancing Racial Equity and Public Health: Smarter Marijuana Laws in Western New York report

When: Tuesday, November 14th, 2017 at 9 a.m.

Where:  Overflow Cafeteria at ECMC, 462 Grider St, Buffalo, NY 14215

Who:

  • Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes
  • Kassandra Frederique, Drug Policy Alliance
  • Franchelle Parker, Open Buffalo
  • Andrea Ó Súilleabháin, Partnership for the Public Good
  • John Washington, PUSH Buffalo
  • Rebecca Town, Legal Aid Bureau of Buffalo
  • Individuals directly impacted by marijuana prohibition