How Can Mayor De Blasio End the War on Drugs in NYC?

Press Release November 14, 2013
Media Contact

<p>Contact: gabriel sayegh 646-335-2264 or Tony Newman 646-335-5384</p>

NEW YORK—This Saturday, New Yorkers will gather to map the future of our city’s drug policies for progressive champion Mayor-Elect Bill de Blasio and a new, increasingly progressive City Council. As part of the innovative Talking Transition series, New Yorkers have a unique opportunity to envision new drug polices based in equity, health and safety, rather than drug policies rooted in racism, criminalization and violence.

Hundreds of New Yorkers —  students, cultural workers, academics, advocates, community organizers, young people, treatment providers, civil rights activists and others will break into small groups, to come up with solutions to a range of issues such as: racially biased marijuana arrests, lack of effective treatment, legal access to medical marijuana and overdose prevention strategies. The recommendations emerging from the Ending the New Jim Crow forum will be delivered to the new de Blasio Administration for consideration.

Ending the New Jim Crow: Mapping the Future of Drug Policy in NYC
When:      Saturday, November 16, 2013
Time:        2:00 — 3:30pm
Where:     Talking Transition Tent at the corner of Canal St. and 6th Avenue, Manhattan

Facebook event

For years, New York’s drug policies have failed to improve health and safety in our communities, and have led to serious problems, such as mass incarceration, criminalization of health issues, fiscal waste, violations of civil rights and civil liberties, and appalling racial disparities. Even after the recent reforms to the failed Rockefeller Drug Laws, drug policies in New York City and state remain guided primarily by the criminal justice system, even while those interventions often cause more harm than good. For instance, accidental overdose deaths continue to rise in NYC, but most of these deaths are preventable. Research shows that most people who witness an overdose don’t call 911 for help because they’re afraid of arrest — getting a ride in the back of a police car instead of an ambulance. In the state that created the Rockefeller Drug Laws and is known as the marijuana arrest capital of the world, this is a reasonable fear.

There is growing consensus that the criminalization-focused war on drugs has failed and is destructive. Yesterday New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman released a report analyzing NYPD’s stop-and-frisk program. The analysis shows that low-level drug possession – including marijuana possession – are among the top the list of arrests that result from stop and frisk. The AG highlights the collateral consequences resulting from the stops and arrests — including threat of loss of employment, housing, student loans, and immigration status.

The appalling racial disparities associated with these practices have caused particular alarm. Today, New York Times columnist Jim Dwyer published an unflinching article about our broken, racially biased marijuana policies. In the article, Dwyer describes how he purchased and delivered marijuana for seriously ill patients, noting that because he’s white, he had little reason to be concerned about being stopped, searched and arrested.

"Plenty of white New Yorkers walk around with a small bag of marijuana in their pockets – or a backpack, in Mr. Dwyer's experiment – and never think twice about being stopped by the police and illegally searched," said Alfredo Carrasquillo, VOCAL's Civil Rights Organizer. "But for Black and Latino youth, who are no more likely to use marijuana than whites, the constant threat of stop and frisk means that they can all too easily end up with an arrest record for marijuana and all the problems that can bring. This is just one example of our failed drug policies in New York City and state. There are better ways to prevent and deter drug use. Mayor-elect de Blasio has promised a new approach – we want to make sure that new approach is informed by everyday New Yorkers, especially those of us who are targets of drug war-related policing and violence.”

By delivering marijuana to sick patients, Dywer joins thousands of other New Yorkers who have procured marijuana for medical use by seriously ill friends or family, highlighting another problem in New York’s drug policies: the lack of a medical marijuana program. While Mayor-elect de Blasio has not committed to support compassion for sick New Yorkers, supports legislation to end the  racially biased marijuana arrest crusade in NYC.

Clearly, more needs to be done to address the broader problems with drug policies in NYC. With Albany and Washington, D.C. mired in dysfunction and pettiness, waiting for state or federal action isn’t feasible; NYC must act now to fix the myriad problems caused by lack of a coordinate strategy and effectively address drug related harm, disorder and crime. Cities in Europe and Canada have developed municipal based drug strategies that have become standard good-government practices. As NYC embarks in a new direction under a progressive mayor, this Saturday will be the first of many discussions about developing a municipal based drug strategy focused on enhancing public health and safety.

“New York now has the opportunity to show the nation the exit strategy for the failed war on drugs,” said Kassandra Frederique, policy coordinator at the Drug Policy Alliance. “Our City has all the resources to lead the country in developing a progressive model city for effective, evidence-based drug policies, rooted in health and safety instead of social control and institutional racism. With the right leadership, we can bring coherency to our drug policies and reduce overdose fatalities, increase access to treatment and healthcare, reduce addiction rates, end racially biased policing, stop the criminalization of our youth, and save limited taxpayer dollars. That’s what drug policy looks like after the war on drugs.”

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

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