Justice Delayed is Justice Denied: Marijuana Reform Dropped From Budget Talks As Lawmakers Plan to Leave for Vacation

Press Release March 20, 2013
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<p>Contact: gabriel sayegh (646-335-2264) or Tony Newman (646-335-5484)</p>

New York: State legislators are set to go on vacation next week without fixing the racially biased, wasteful and egregious marijuana possession law in New York. Yesterday, the governor and leaders in the Assembly and Senate announced a final deal on the state budget, and today announced that they would punt on marijuana law reform, declaring that after weeks of negotiations, they couldn’t agree on a simple proposal. As communities across the state continue to suffer from unjust laws – especially low income communities of color in New York City —  leaders said that any reforms will have to wait until they are back from a three-week vacation.

Community groups from across the state joined the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic, and Asian Legislative Caucus to blast the delay, noting while elected officials in Albany are on vacation, young people – mostly young men of color – will continue to experience the trauma, injustice and criminalization of a broken law: over 85% of the arrests are people of color – mostly young – even though young whites use marijuana at higher rates. There are an average of nearly one thousand public view marijuana arrests in New York every week, costing taxpayers nearly $1.5 million at a time when the state is cutting vital social services. By the time the legislature returns from vacation, approximately 3,000 people will have been arrested – mostly Black and Latino men – at a cost of nearly $5,000,000. And police will have spent nearly 10,000 hours making these arrests.

"I am gravely disappointed that this budget failed to enact justice for the more than 44,000 individuals arrested last year based on a flawed law. Not only does allowing these arrests directly impact the lives of individuals and their communities, they are a gross misappropriation of city and state resources, and a waste of officer manpower that can be spent on more pressing law enforcement matters,” said Assemblyman Karim Camara, Chair of the New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus. “Changing this flawed law has the support of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, NYC Police Commissioner Kelly, the District Attorneys of the five boroughs, and Buffalo and Nassau and Albany counties, the PBA and major law enforcement agencies throughout the state. Yet politics trumped the policy that would be best for New York City and our state.”

“This is an issue that cannot wait.  Our tens of thousands of youth arrested annually under unfair practices shouldn’t have to wait,” said Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez.  “They deserve better – they deserve justice and equality.  And they deserve it now. We need to end this policy that has plagued our communities for too long  and make public view possession a violation.”

For weeks, Governor Cuomo and leaders in the Senate and Assembly have talked about fixing the marijuana law during the budget process. In his 2013 State of the State Address, Gov. Cuomo outlined a smart plan to decriminalize possessing up to 15 grams of marijuana in public view; smoking in public would remain a misdemeanor. Fixing the law would help end the practice of arresting tens of thousands of young people per year for possessing marijuana in public view when police demand that someone “empty their pockets “during a stop-and-frisk encounter.

"Why is it acceptable to kick the can down the road when it comes to protecting the constitutional rights of young Black and Latino New Yorkers," asked Alfredo Carrasquillo, VOCAL-NY's Civil Rights Community Organizer. "Getting this done is a test for the political leadership in Albany that right now they are failing. It's time to stop delaying justice when it comes to ending racially biased and costly marijuana arrests."

"Youth in Buffalo have waited too long for politicians in Albany to stop marijuana arrests that disproportionately target young people of color," said Jennifer Mecozzi, Organizing Director at PUSH Buffalo. "We need to be opening doors of opportunity for our young people, not closing them shut with unnecessary and wasteful arrests for marijuana possession and lifelong criminal arrest records."

The arrest statistics say it all. Since 2002, nearly 500,000 people have been arrested in New York  for marijuana possession – the vast majority of those arrests, 440,000, took place in New York City. Last year alone in the City, there were nearly 40,000 such arrests, far exceeding the total marijuana arrests in NYC from 1981-1995. The cost to taxpayers is  $75 million a year, and over $600 million in the last decade, a profound waste of money. A report released earlier this week found that the NYPD had spent one million hours making these arrests over the past decade.

“Behind the one million police hours spent arresting young Black and Latino men is the shameful truth of 21st century racism. These are unlawful, racially biased arrests, plain and simple. We need our elected officials to stand up for civil rights for all people” said Chino Hardin, Field Coordinator and Trainer with the Center for NuLeadership on Urban Solutions.

New Yorkers strongly support reform. Dozens of community organizations throughout the state, state legislators, the NYC Council and Mayor Bloomberg have all demanded change. Law enforcement leadegabriel sayegh (646-335-2264) rs have called for reform. The New York Times, the Daily News, the New York Post, the Syracuse Times-Standard, and the Buffalo News are among the papers that have written editorials in support the of the reform.

“This is a profound failure of leadership in Albany,” said gabriel sayegh, director of the Drug Policy Alliance’s New York Office.  “Why are the lives of Black and Latino young people not matters of urgent importance to leaders in Albany? Why are low income people  in New York — especially people of color – always told to wait for reform, to wait for justice? The only thing we can conclude from this failure of leadership is that there isn’t enough courage, sense or moral clarity in Albany to do the right thing.  No more vacations, no more delays. Justice delayed is justice denied – we need reform, now.”

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

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