Advocates Demand Marijuana Legalization in New York Focus on Racial and Economic Justice

Press Release May 8, 2018
Media Contact

Tony Newman (646) 335-5384
Kassandra Frederique (646) 209-0374


Albany —Advocates assembled in the state capitol today to urge state Legislators and the Governor to move on marijuana reform and emphasize that marijuana legalization remains a social, racial, and economic justice issue.


Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes and Senator Liz Krueger were joined by organizations and groups dedicated to criminal justice reform, civil rights, and public health as they stood in support of the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA), 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.


“New York families have suffered for too long from the destructive effects of marijuana prohibition. Heavily racialized enforcement has meant that African American and Latino communities have borne the brunt of this misguided policy, with young people locked up in jail, and locked out of jobs, housing, and education. Allowing adult personal use, with appropriate regulation and taxation, is the kind of smart, responsible, fact-based drug policy that our communities desperately need,” said Senator Liz Krueger.


“It’s about time for New York to revisit our marijuana policies. Despite heightened rhetoric on the issue over the last few years, our laws have not changed since 1977. People are still being arrested for low-level possession every day — and young black and brown New Yorkers are getting arrested at alarming rates. It makes no sense to be having this discussion while so many are still being harmed by our outdated drug laws. Prohibition must end.” said Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes. “Not only have these arrests created a great deal of harm in communities across the state and stunted advancement opportunities for generations but we are also missing out on a huge economic development opportunity. I think folks are starting to see and agree that prohibition has failed. I am most interested in making sure that we change course in a responsible way and that we work to repair some of the harm that prohibition has caused by reinvesting in communities.”


Nine states and the District of Columbia have now ended marijuana prohibition in their jurisdictions. Those states have reduced their overall court filings of marijuana related offenses by 94%. They have utilized the much-needed revenue to rebuild crumbling infrastructure, support education, and invest in communities. And a growing body of research points to how access to legal marijuana can be a powerful tool for reducing opioid overdoses—with 25 percent drops in overdose deaths in states with legal frameworks for marijuana. 


“We need to move beyond our completely broken prohibition model on marijuana to a sensible tax-and-regulate model,” said Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard Gottfried. “It’s widely recognized that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol and our law is dishonest in how we treat it.  Continued criminalization of marijuana does not prevent marijuana use.  It creates an illegal drug market that costs millions of dollars in law enforcement and other resources while disproportionately affecting minority communities.”


“The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act would address one of the most ineffective and expensive policies in our State, which has only served to criminalize communities like the ones I represent,” said State Senator Gustavo Rivera. “Laws surrounding marijuana are outdated and are costing New Yorkers their freedom and our State money. I am proud to join Senator Krueger and the 2 out of 3 New Yorkers who support pushing for legalization so that we can invest that new revenue where we need it the most.”


As states across the country–and particularly the Northeast–continue to reform their marijuana policy, increased pressure is on New York to legalize. A growing number of elected officials from across the state have publicly voiced their support for legalization and the Governor has begun to study the issue. Advocates emphasized the need for reform be rooted in racial and economic justice—not solely a cash grab—and highlighted that legalization must center those who have been impacted.


The MRTA includes efforts to repair the significant damage done to communities under prohibition, such as sealing low-level marijuana arrests and convictions, removing a positive marijuana test as justification for violating a person’s parole or probation arrangement, and eliminating marijuana use or a past arrest as a justification for denying a person access to employment or licensing opportunities.


“Despite a large drop in marijuana busts, the overwhelming majority of those arrested are Black and Latino. Surveys show that the usage of marijuana is the same between minorities and Whites yet, there are huge racial disparities between the two. The legalization of marijuana is the beginning to end of the biased criminalization of minorities in New York,” said Assemblymember Latrice Walker.


“The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act is long overdue and gives New York an opportunity to lead in criminal justice reform as we rank second in the nation in the number of marijuana arrests, a deplorable statistic that is reminiscent of the war on drugs. Low-level marijuana offenses disproportionately affects Black and Latino communities and unnecessarily leaves a permanent stain on oftentimes first-time, non-violent offenders’ records. I strongly urge my colleagues and New York residents to support this common-sense legislation that will save the state millions of dollars in enforcement and help to rebuild lives. ” said Assemblymember Michael Blake.

Advocates launched the Start SMART NY campaign (Sensible Marijuana Access through Regulated Trade) in support of the MRTA legislation last year and pointed to their efforts as a key reason for the increased discussion of the issue, along with the groundswell of public support. Public opinion polls show two-thirds of New Yorkers favor legalizing marijuana for adult use in the state.


The overwhelming majority of New Yorkers recognize the benefits of legalizing recreational use of marijuana by adults. For decades, the impacts of enforcement have fallen disproportionately on black, brown and poor New Yorkers, tearing apart communities with over-incarceration, loss of jobs, housing, or even custody of one’s own children. The Marijuana Taxation and Regulation Act would not just benefit the state economy — it is designed to benefit the communities that have suffered most under criminalization,” said Erika Lorshbough, New York Civil Liberties Union.


“We support the Start SMART NY campaign to end marijuana prohibition in New York and move toward a framework centered around repairing the past harms disproportionately visited upon communities of color and bringing public safety and community building. We stand with Drug Policy Alliance, defenders, and community groups in calling for an end of a racially unjust system of marijuana prohibition and for the commitment of reinvestment into those most impacted by this form of policing,” said Anthony Posada, Community Justice Unit,

The Legal Aid Society.


The legislation also ensures tax revenue generated from marijuana legalization is put to use repairing communities devastated by harsh enforcement of prohibition by directing revenue to fund job training, adult education, 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, in addition to education, public health, and drug treatment.


To increase 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.


“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. Over the last 20 years, more than 800,000 lives were irrevocably damaged by our draconian marijuana arrest policies. 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,” said Kassandra Frederique, New York State Director for the Drug Policy Alliance. “Ultimately, the best way to address the disparities and challenges posed by prohibition is to legalize and regulate marijuana in New York.”


A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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