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NY Pols Call for Marijuana Decriminalization Fix

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #737)

The New York Times reported Sunday that Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) would come out Monday in support of legislation that would halt the NYPD's practice of arresting people for public possession of marijuana after stopping and frisking them and ordering them to empty their pockets. By Monday, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and NYPD Police Commissioner Ray Kelly both agreed, throwing their support behind the proposal.

New York actually decriminalized the possession of up to an ounce of pot back in 1977, meaning people caught with small amounts of marijuana would only be ticketed -- not arrested -- but beginning with the administration of then Mayor Rudy Giuliani, the NYPD began violating the spirit of the law (if not the letter) with its policy of forcing people it stopped to pull out their baggies, then charging them with the arrestable misdemeanor of public possession of marijuana. That meant an average 24-hour stay in the city's jails for people who should only have been issued a citation, as well as a criminal record.

Police in New York arrested a little more than 2,000 people a year for marijuana during the 1980s and through the mid-1990s, but as the city's stop-and-frisk campaign began under Giuliani and accelerated in the wake of 9/11, those numbers skyrocketed, averaging more than 40,000 a year since 1995. Last year it was more than 50,000, nearly nine out of 10 of them black or Latino.

Mayor Bloomberg had previously opposed efforts to revise the law to prevent abuses like those practiced by the NYPD, but in a Monday statement, he changed his tune. Because the proposed changes would still allow arrest for actually smoking or selling marijuana, they "strike the right balance," the mayor said.

The legislation the governor and the mayor are getting behind is Assembly Bill 7620 and its companion, Senate Bill 5187. Those bills would standardize penalties for marijuana possession by striking the language about "in public view" and "burning" from the state's marijuana law. But Cuomo and Bloomberg don't want "burning" to be decriminalized, so some haggling is likely to take place.

It's about time, said activists from the Drug Policy Alliance, the Institute for Juvenile Justice Reform and Alternatives, and VOCAL, a group representing people affected by AIDS, drug use, or exposure to the criminal justice system. The three groups have been spearheading the effort to get the bills through the legislature.

"Governor Cuomo has demonstrated real leadership and with his recognition that the NYPD is unlawfully arresting tens of thousands of young people; this is a tremendous advancement to ending these egregious police practices," said Gabriel Sayegh, New York state director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "We cannot have laws applied differently to different groups of people when the dividing line is race. The legislature must now act and reform these policies, and only then will New York fully realize the intent of the 1977 marijuana decriminalization law."

"Governor Cuomo's call is well appreciated and welcomed by a growing coalition of faith and civil rights leaders who have been working to ensure a jail-free future for our youth by investing in community development and resources that are far more effective at guiding our youth in the choices they make towards fulfilling their best potential," said Kyung Ji Kate Rhee of the Institute for Juvenile Justice Reform and Alternatives.

"By taking up this issue Governor Cuomo is taking a major step forward to ending the criminalization of young men of color. This shows great leadership by our governor to address racially biased practices and restore the relationship between communities of color and our government," according to Alfredo Carrasquillo, community organizer for VOCAL New York and former victim of illegal marijuana arrests.

Those three groups, as well as others, are preparing a big push in the next two weeks to get the bills passed. Plans include an online media campaign and a mass rally in Albany on June 12. Stay tuned.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Anonymous87887 (not verified)

If people could simply be tried for causing harm, those people would never have been frisked in the first place.

I lived in the Bronx my entire life until some years ago, I was interested in video games and computers, and I avoided the gangs. All the time. They just come around like swarms enforcing their rules belligerently, and the police were no different. There are good police, but I don't need to tell anyone about what goes on.

Now that I understand what this is really about, it makes me sick that Bloomberg, or anyone, thinks arresting people for nothing while knowing how the system works and who it benefits is the peak of hypocrisy. I've figured out all of the problems we face, and none of it is really hard to solve.

Ron Paul has a sound policy which would align with better fiscal reality as well.

We can clean up disagreements after the Wars end(!) and nobody has debt.

I really don't know how Obama can get so much credit either. I don't think he's funny and his education doesn't intimidate me. These laws are all just hogwash. If you have an understanding of how things really work, what's really fair, and when you have to put on your pants and go to work, the world becomes simpler and problems will be resolved. The Constitution summed it all up. You don't even have to read the entire thing to know that it will legally shield you from corrupt government. All of these exceptions just create an alternate reality, which is being exploited. Look around you. Why are so many people starving when we could be feeding people instead of killing them? Inflation has strangled most people into a ball and chain reality. Nobody is free because of entangling alliances, and the government has definitely fucked up big time. 

If you can't handle the power, than just hand it over to the people, to be dissolved into innocent denominations.

Mon, 06/04/2012 - 8:36pm Permalink
mcweedald (not verified)

The Mayor's "compromise" is better than nothing because (a) maybe it is o.k. to VAPE as long as you don't SMOKE, and (b) if you have a bona fide VAPE utensil maybe they can't accuse you of smoking.  Also (c) if a one-hitter is included under VAPE instead of SMOKE (yes, Virginia, you can vfape with a one-hitter) then you'll use so little herb they won't catch you BUYING.

Mon, 06/04/2012 - 10:30pm Permalink
Anonymous87887 (not verified)

In reply to by mcweedald (not verified)

Not really, its a matter of principle.

People blow tobacco smoke while walking down NYC streets and smoke in the corners despite the law.

Why aren't they subject to such treatment?

Tue, 06/05/2012 - 1:01am Permalink
kickback (not verified)

Funny how politicians flip and flop leading up to an election . DPA  accounts for most of the credit . Add to it , 56% of the public and what do you get ?  Obama and the dems might be getting the message . The under-tow of that " Big Green Tsunami " has no mercy .  

Tue, 06/05/2012 - 1:21am Permalink
xnyc (not verified)

"New York actually decriminalized the possession of up to an ounce of pot back in 1977"

Wasn't it 25 grams, not an ounce?

Fri, 06/08/2012 - 10:36am Permalink
Nedmorlef (not verified)

I don't understand how Americans can sit and watch this and remain confident in our leaders to do the right thing.

 If a politician cheats on his wife he is charged with having the wherewithal to cheat his nation {John Edwards]. It's then demanded he resign or be removed. Yet, you watch how politicians and cops openly react to the votes of the people with corruptive and deceptive practices and outright criminal activity. No one thinks they'll cheat their nation. Even though, they are outright cheating and lying to prevent legal access to cannabis.

I guess they only become corrupt when, it involves cannabis. Cannabis makes honest gov't officials lie,cheat and steal.

 What says they haven't done this with other topics of law? It says to me they have and are extremely experienced at it.

Fri, 06/08/2012 - 2:46pm Permalink

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