New York City Council Passes Resolution, Calls on Albany to Pass Legislation Ending Racially Biased, Costly, Unlawful Marijuana Possession Arrests

Press Release June 13, 2012
Media Contact

Tony Newman, Drug Policy Alliance: 646-335-5384<br />
Alfredo Carrasquillo, VOCAL NY: 718-415-9254<br />
Kyung Ji Rhee, Center For NuLeadership: 347-712-0259</p>

NEW YORK: Yesterday, the New York City Council passed Resolution 986-A which calls for an end to racially biased, costly, unlawful arrests. The resolution, introduced by Council Members Melissa Mark-Viverito and Oliver Koppell, was co-sponsored by a majority of Council members and passed by an overwhelming majority during the monthly Stated meeting. The resolution calls for closing the loophole to clarify the marijuana possession law in New York. The New York State Legislature decriminalized personal possession of marijuana in 1977, finding that arresting people for small amounts of marijuana "needlessly scars thousands of lives while detracting from the prosecution of serious crimes.”

More than ninety percent of marijuana possession arrests come from New York City because of the City’s aggressive stop-and-frisk policies that have swept up 700,000, mostly young and black and Latino men in 2011 alone.

“Despite marijuana having been decriminalized since 1977, tens of thousands of mostly black and Latino young people are arrested after a police officer asks them to take marijuana out of their pocket during a stop-and-frisk,” said Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito. “By passing this resolution, the City Council is calling on the Senate to stop playing politics with the lives of our City’s young black and Latino men and pass this legislation.”

As numerous news articles and research have demonstrated, the NYPD engages in unlawful practice of mischarging and arresting people for marijuana possession after an illegal search; or, the arrest occurs when the person complies with an NYPD officer’s directive to “empty their pockets.” Many people comply, even though they’re not legally required to do so. If a person pulls mari¬juana from their pocket or bag, it is then “open to public view.” The police then arrest the person for burning or possession in public view. These arrests needlessly criminalizes young people – especially young people of color – and harms the relationship between law enforcement and the community.

“This resolution is not just about decriminalizing marijuana. It’s about raising the bar on how we achieve accountability, racial equity, and most of all, public safety built on policies that encourage community engagement and solutions,” said Chino Hardin, leader trainer at Center for NuLeadership. “It is not just a resolution but investment in the right direction, and we call on our legislative leaders to join the growing and diverse community leadership for safety and justice.”

Mayor Bloomberg, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly, and all five New York City District Attorneys support legislation in Albany introduced at the request of Governor Cuomo that clarifies the existing marijuana possession in public view law in order to prevent unlawful arrests by police officers and to reduce the racial disparities of those arrested.

“There's no better example of how the war on drugs has become an excuse to criminalize low-income communities of color in New York City than the marijuana arrests crusade. The City Council is showing leadership calling for an to end these racially biased and costly marijuana arrests,” said Alfredo Carasquillo, a community organizer with VOCAL-NY. “It's time to start investing in classrooms, human services and jobs instead of wasting tens of millions of dollars every year locking up tens of thousands of Black and Latino youth for a minor offense that was decriminalized 35 years ago.”

The resolution calls on the New York Senate to act swiftly and pass legislation, "putting Governor Cuomo's proposal into effect in order to end the practice."

“There are five days left of the legislative session, and as we know from data, the marijuana arrests spike in the summer,” said gabriel sayegh, state director the Drug Policy Alliance’s New York office. “If the legislature doesn’t act this year, thousands more young people of color will be unlawfully arrested, saddled with a criminal record, and face significant barriers to overcome for life, while their white counterparts will be largely left alone. That's shameful. The time for reform is now."

To read Council Resolution 986-A, click here.

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

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