Times Square “Marijuana Justice” Billboards Running This Weekend Urge Gov. Cuomo to Pursue Legalization Grounded in Racial and Economic Justice

Press Release February 1, 2019
Media Contact

Tony Newman 646-335-5384
Melissa Moore 646-470-2827

New York, NY: Advocates with the Start SMART NY coalition (Sensible Marijuana Access through Regulated Trade) will blast Governor Andrew Cuomo in a series of billboards airing throughout Times Square throughout the day Saturday and Sunday of Superbowl weekend, pressing the governor to work toward marijuana justice—not just legalization.
The billboards come on the heels of the Governor’s inclusion of marijuana legalization in his State of the State address and budget proposal. Despite Governor Cuomo’s statement that legalization needs to benefit communities – “not rich corporations,” his proposal does not direct any funding to the communities that were the most harmed by the marijuana arrest crusade.
Advocates have emphasized that legalization must center those who have been impacted and be rooted in racial and economic justice—not solely a cash grab. Governor Cuomo echoed as much in his State of the State speech, but his words ring empty without clearly earmarked funds for communities that have been ravaged by marijuana criminalization.
“Repairing the damage done by marijuana prohibition is not negotiable, said Kassandra Frederique, New York State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance. Restitution to communities most impacted by marijuana prohibition is the starting line. Legalization in New York must be as comprehensive as the damage that has been done throughout the state.”
Members of the Start SMART NY coalition – which is comprised of organizations, community members and advocates dedicated to criminal justice reform, civil rights, public health, and community-based organizations who support legalization – are hoping the billboards are a wake-up call for the Governor and the Legislature.  
The coalition demands that any plan for marijuana legalization include reinvesting new tax revenues in impacted communities and remedying problems that stem from biased enforcement, which disproportionately affects Black and Latino New Yorkers. This reinvestment must be community-led, responsive to the harms caused, and accountable to communities.
Additionally, the coalition made clear that communities cannot wait for marijuana justice – despite recent comments from elected officials about this being a complex issue, the Start SMART NY coalition maintains that the more than 800,000 New Yorkers who have been criminalized for marijuana need action now. The New York legislature has stalled progress on this issue for decades – with Democrats now at the helm, communities need them vocally represent impacted communities at the budget negotiation table.
“We have the chance to pass the most progressive marijuana legalization bill in the U.S. but it requires working intentionally,” said India Walton, Open Buffalo. “Given New York’s appalling history with racially biased marijuana enforcement, we must be bold and innovative in creating justice and equity. We want to see a policy that is responsive to the lives of New Yorkers, not solely business interests.  Legalization can be an economic engine driving wealth and equity in marginalized communities and providing space for alternative economic systems—if we work diligently. Revenues from legalization cannot go to general fund—legalization must reinvest in communities most harmed by prohibition.”
The Start SMART NY coalition’s central points for legalization are that any successful legalization framework in NY must:
•    Marijuana legalization MUST include clearing records and addressing the collateral consequences that stem from marijuana criminalization, such as immigration, housing, child welfare, and employment denial
•    Marijuana legalization MUST create a diverse and inclusive industry where people of color have ownership
•    The revenue from marijuana legalization MUST be used to reinvest in communities that have been impacted by prohibition
Photos of the billboard airing in Times Squares this weekend available to press upon request.

Stills and petition are available at smart-ny.com/act.

Start SMART NY is a campaign to end marijuana prohibition and repair the harms to communities, convened by the Drug Policy Alliance in partnership with groups dedicated to ending marijuana prohibition.


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

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