new york marijuana cannabis

Another New York Poll Shows Strong Support For Cannabis Legalization

Most of the Uncle Cliffy team was born and raised in New York State, with many members of the team still residing there. Clifford Robinson was born and raised in Buffalo, New York where he saw firsthand the failures of cannabis prohibition.

Clifford Robinson was arrested for cannabis possession prior to attending the University of Connecticut. The arrest for a very small amount of cannabis almost derailed Cliff’s basketball playing career before it ever began. Fortunately, things ultimately worked out for Robinson but only after a nightmare scenario in which his entire future was put in jeopardy because of a plant that is 114 times safer than alcohol.

Because of his firsthand experiences, and those of other members of the Uncle Cliffy team, Clifford Robinson passionately advocates for cannabis reform in New York State. New York State is now going to be bordered by two states (Vermont and Massachusetts) and likely one country (Canada) that will have passed measures to end cannabis prohibition.

New Jersey, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania are also in the midst of discussions and efforts to end cannabis prohibition, which put further pressure on New York State lawmakers to step up and get their state on the right side of history. Such a move would be supported by a majority of New York State voters, per a recent poll conducted by Siena College. Per the poll:

“With strong support from Democrats and independents, and support from every region, by a 56-40 percent margin, New Yorkers support legalizing the recreational use of marijuana,” Greenberg said. “Voters 55 and older are closely divided, while three-quarters of voters under 35 support legalization.”

The Siena College poll was not the first to find majority support for cannabis legalization in New York State. A poll from late last year, conducted by Emerson College and commissioned by the Marijuana Policy Project Foundation and the Drug Policy Alliance, found that 62% of New York State voters approve of cannabis legalization.

The difference between the two poll results is close enough that it can be explained by a number of factors, and should not be seen as demonstrating that support for legalization in New York is decreasing. With legalization efforts occurring on all sides of New York State’s borders, and legalization succeeding in other parts of the country, the Uncle Cliffy team expects to see support for legalization in New York State to increase in the future. Free the plant New York!

andrew cuomo marijuana cannabis new york

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.

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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 marijuana cannabis

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

new york state assembly marijuana cannabis

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.”

new york marijuana cannabis

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

jail arrest marijuana cannabis

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

buffalo new york marijuana cannabis

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
manhattan marijuana cannabis new york

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.

miles plumlee marijuana cannabis

The NBA Should Not Penalize Miles Plumlee For Cannabis Arrest

According to multiple reports, Atlanta Hawks center Miles Plumlee was recently arrested for personal cannabis possession in Long Island, New York. The arrest was first reported by longtime NBA reporter Peter Vecsey (the same Peter Vecsey that gave Cliff Robinson the nickname ‘Uncle Spliffy’). Few details about the arrest have surfaced other than that Miles Plumlee paid $100 following the arrest, and that the arrest was for possession of a personal amount of cannabis.

In the state of New York, possession of less than 25 grams of cannabis (first offense) carries a penalty of $100. If that was the case for Miles Plumlee, his situation is not really a big deal. To illustrate that point, consider the fact that possession of up to one ounce while away from a person’s residence is legal in 8 states and our nation’s capital. The possession limits are even greater when someone is possessing cannabis at home in those states. Had Miles been in possession of the same amount of cannabis in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, California, Nevada, Massachusetts, Maine, or Washington D.C., he would have been free to go and his name would never have been dragged through the media mud.

Unfortunately now, in addition to the unfair stigma that Plumlee will have to deal with for years to come, Miles is likely to be punished by the NBA. The NBA’s policy dictates that a first time cannabis offense requires a player to enter treatment. The penalties get steeper with every subsequent offense. The NBA does not have a public database that shows how many violations a player has, if any, so it is undetermined at this point what could happen to Miles from a league standpoint.

The Uncle Cliffy team urges the NBA to not penalize Miles Plumlee. If all Miles was doing was possessing a personal amount of cannabis and no one was harmed by his actions, then he really did nothing wrong. Miles is simply the victim of an outdated, failed public policy. Miles Plumlee has been recovering from knee surgery, and it is quite possible that the cannabis he was in possession of was for medical purposes. Had Miles Plumlee been a registered medical cannabis patient in one of the 29 states that have legalized medical cannabis, and been caught in that state or a state that has a reciprocity cannabis law on the books, he would have never been arrested.

Miles is originally from Indiana, and currently plays in Georgia. Where he lives is not known, but unless he is a citizen of New York, he would not be eligible to enroll as a medical cannabis patient in New York where he was caught with cannabis. But just because a player crosses state lines does not mean that the need for medicine goes away. The NBA should apply some logic and have some compassion for its player and not penalize Miles Plumlee. After all, he was caught possessing a plant that is legal in 8 states for adult use, 29 states for medical use, and no one was harmed by his actions. With cannabis being 114 times safer than alcohol, a substance which is widely embraced by the NBA, penalizing Miles Plumlee for a cannabis offense away from the team during the offseason makes no sense. As Dan Feldman from NBC Sports put it in his article about Plumlee’s arrest, ‘Why is the NBA penalizing players for something that ranges from a petty offense to completely legal?’

“I grew up in New York State. Having had my own run in with cannabis prohibition in New York, I can say firsthand that New York’s prohibition laws are unjust and harmful. This is something that Mr. Plumlee will have to deal with long after his encounter with law enforcement. Not only will he have to deal with the stigma that comes with being an NBA player caught with cannabis, his family will have to deal with it too, which is unfortunate. Hopefully the NBA takes a rational approach to the situation, and Miles can get back to focusing on basketball.” said Cliff Robinson.

image via Peach Tree Hoops

jail arrest marijuana cannabis

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

Who:

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