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


  • 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

Manhattan D.A. Announces New Policy To Reduce Impact Of Cannabis Possession Arrests

The Uncle Cliffy team fully supports cannabis reform efforts in New York State. This is true at the state level, as well as at the local level. Cliff Robinson was born and raised in New York State, as were other members of the Uncle Cliffy team, and they witnessed first hand the harms of cannabis prohibition in New York. In some of the team members’ situations, including Cliff Robinson’s, they were the victims of the failed cannabis prohibition policies of New York. Encouraging cannabis reform news was announced out of New York this week at the local level (Manhattan). It’s a great step in the right direction that will hopefully lead to further reforms. Below is more information about the news via the Drug Policy Alliance:

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. announced a shift in his office’s policy for New Yorkers arrested for low level marijuana possession. This policy change was created in an effort to reduce the number of New Yorkers, mostly young people of color, who face lasting collateral consequences as the result of a marijuana possession arrest and conviction.

The new policy expands the use of a pre-existing judicial tool, the Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal (ACD). The ACD has previously been offered following a person’s first arrest for low-level marijuana possession. If granted an ACD, an individual would not have to plea to a criminal misdemeanor or violation charge. However, the ACD would appear as a pending case on a person’s criminal record for a year and would only be dismissed and sealed should that person not get re-arrested in that year.

“Until the legislature makes progress on marijuana, we are making these ACDs as short as practicable in order to reduce these harmful collateral consequences,” Vance said. “No one should be denied a home or a college education for something as trivial as pot possession.”

The new policy will reduce some of the impact that marijuana prohibition enforcement has on New Yorkers by reducing the amount of time that a person has to retain the ACD on their criminal record and by allowing people who have been arrested for a second time for marijuana possession to also be granted ACDs. Under the new policy, people arrested for marijuana possession can receive an ACD for three months for the first offense (instead of 12 months) and an ACD for six months for the second offense.

“We applaud the District Attorney’s recognition of problematic and harmful marijuana possession enforcement, and the collateral consequences that result, as a significant issue. Yet this policy shift is a band-aid solution to a bullet wound. The NYPD continues to use marijuana prohibition as a justification for massive violations of civil and human rights. As we work toward ending marijuana prohibition, it is imperative that other District Attorneys across the city and state recognize the human toll that marijuana law enforcement has collected and do more to stop the bleeding. If there are District Attorneys who agree with the majority of New Yorkers that marijuana should be made legal, they can and should also decline to prosecute all low-level marijuana possession arrests,” said Chris Alexander, Policy Coordinator at the Drug Policy Alliance.

Marijuana prohibition enforcement has been, and remains, a priority for the NYPD, who have arrested over 800,000 New Yorkers for low-level marijuana possession over the last 20 years and 17,000 New Yorkers in 2016 alone. Manhattan had more arrests than any other county in New York City in 2016.

“We commend the Manhattan District Attorney for this change. As this City’s primary public defender we see the obstacles that arrest and prosecution for marijuana cause our clients, who exclusively come from communities of color,” said Tina Luongo, Attorney-In-Charge of the Criminal Practice at The Legal Aid Society. “But to fully address the problem, NYPD must end its overzealous and discriminatory enforcement of marijuana possession on communities of color and Albany must take legislative action. While we wait for that, the other three DAs should follow Manhattan and Brooklyn.”

Many of these arrests were the product of unconstitutional stops and searches of overwhelmingly young people of color. Some of these individuals were granted ACDs on their first arrest, but continued racially-biased policing practices, as evidenced by persistent racial disparities, will likely impact the overall success of this adjudicative policy shift. Previous policy changes by the NYPD and the current Mayoral Administration have resulted in a small reduction in arrests but did nothing to curb the racial disparities present in those arrested for marijuana possession.

The District Attorney also announced that his office would be launching a new diversion program in 2018 for individuals given Desk Appearance Tickets (DATs), in lieu of an arrest, when found to be in possession of illicit substances by law enforcement. A low-level drug possession arrest and conviction can result in the loss of access to housing, licensing, employment and educational opportunities, and a person’s status and ability to stay in the country should they not be a citizen. Entrance into the Manhattan Hope program for people given a DAT will result in the DA declining to prosecute the charges against them and will thus alleviate many of these potential collateral consequences.

“The District Attorney’s promise to decline to prosecute New Yorkers for low level drug possession is a very positive step. What is most important moving forward is ensuring that all New Yorkers who could benefit from diversion programs are given the opportunity to do so regardless of their arrest record. If the District Attorney is serious about helping to end these collateral consequences then he should consider expanding the eligibility for the diversion program from those receiving DATs to any New Yorker who is charged with possessing small amounts of drugs,” said Alyssa Aguilera, Co-Executive Director at VOCAL-NY.

“Low-level drug possession remains the lion’s share of all drug related arrests in this country and state. These arrests are the product of legislators and decision makers failing to address head on what is, and has always been, a public health issue. The Manhattan Hope diversion program is a good start for the DA but it is also time for the New York State Legislature to take a new approach by putting science based research and compassion first and decriminalize drug use and possession.” said Kassandra Frederique, New York State Director at the Drug Policy Alliance.

Uncle Cliffy Supports The Effort To Bring Sensible Cannabis Laws To New York City

New York City is home to some of the largest cannabis arrest disparities in the nation, with racial minorities getting arrested for cannabis at a significantly higher rate than non-minorities. Cliff Robinson was born and raised in New York, and while he didn’t grow up in New York City (Cliff was raised in Buffalo), he is very familiar with the harms of cannabis prohibition.

Cliff Robinson, along with the Uncle Cliffy team, strongly supports an effort by the Marijuana Arrest Research Project, which will be releasing a major report tomorrow about cannabis arrests in New York City. The report was commissioned by the Drug Policy Alliance.

“The racial disparity in arrest rates in New York City is completely unacceptable. A lot of rhetoric has been thrown around, but the math speaks for itself. Cannabis prohibition is not working in New York City and is resulting in selective enforcement. Current policy has failed, and it’s time for a more sensible approach. It is time for New York City, and the rest of the State of New York, to take the handcuffs off the plant.” said Cliff Robinson.

Below is more information about the Marijuana Arrest Research Project’s report release tomorrow via a press release from the Drug Policy Alliance:

On July 11, the Marijuana Arrest Research Project will release a major report commissioned by the Drug Policy Alliance.

The report, Unjust and Unconstitutional: 60,000 Jim Crow Marijuana Arrests in Mayor de Blasio’s New York, shows that despite changing mayoral administrations and police commissioners, the NYPD continues to make large numbers of unjust and racially-targeted marijuana possession arrests.

Despite Mayor de Blasio’s campaign promise to end racially-biased policing, marijuana possession was New York City’s fourth most commonly charged criminal offense in 2016.

Black and Latino New Yorkers continue to comprise 85 percent of the more than 60,000 people arrested for low-level marijuana possession on Mayor de Blasio’s watch. Most people arrested are young Blacks and Latinos – even though studies consistently show young Whites use marijuana at higher rates.

The new report shows that the NYPD targets Blacks and Latinos for marijuana misdemeanor enforcement all over New York City. One key finding is that in many neighborhoods where Blacks and Latinos constitute a small minority of the residents, they are arrested in much higher numbers than Whites.

The NYPD arrests Black New Yorkers at 10 times the rate of Whites in Manhattan and 15 times the rate of Whites in Staten Island.

The report includes extensive analyses of marijuana arrest data from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services and demographic data for all five boroughs. Additional findings are embargoed until the report release.

What :  Press Conference for release of report, Unjust and Unconstitutional: 60,000 Jim Crow Marijuana Arrests in Mayor de Blasio’s New York

When:  Tuesday, July 11, 2017 at 12 p.m.

Where:  Steps of New York City Hall


  • Drug Policy Alliance
  • Marijuana Arrest Research Project
  • LatinoJustice
  • Brooklyn Defender Services
  • Immigrant Defense Project
  • Individuals directly impacted by marijuana prohibition