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:
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: 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