Wednesday: Elected Officials, Community Groups, Announce New Statewide Legislation to End Unlawful, Racist Marijuana Arrests

Press Release July 7, 2014

NEW YORK: On Wednesday, July 9th at 11am, elected officials, community members and the coalition, New Yorkers for Public Health & Safety, will rally on the Steps of City Hall to call for comprehensive reform to address racially biased marijuana arrests and devastating collateral consequences.

What: Press Conference to introduce the Fairness and Equity Act — a comprehensive reform to fix New York’s broken decriminalization law and address collateral consequences

When: Wednesday, July 9th 11am

Location: Steps of New York City Hall

Who:  Chair of the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic, Asian Caucus Assembly member Karim Camara, Senator Daniel Squadron, Senator Adriano Espilliat, Senator Velmanette Montgomery, Senator Gustavo Rivera, Senator James Sanders, Senator Martin Malave Dilan, Senator Jose Serrano, Assembly member Marcus Crespo, Assembly member Walter Mosley, Assembly member Robert Rodriguez, Assembly member Jose Rivera, Assembly member Luis Sepulveda, Assembly member Carmen Arroyo, Assembly member Maritza Davila, Assembly member Felix Ortiz, Assembly member Nick Perry,  NYC Council Chair of Public Safety Vanessa L. Gibson, City Council member Rafael Espinal, City Council member Carlos Menchaca, City Council member Robert Cornegy, City Council member Inez Dickens, City Council member Anabel Palma, City Council member Ritchie Torres, City Council member Jumaane Williams, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, Working Families Party State Director Bill Lipton, RDWSU President Stuart Applebaum, VOCAL-NY, Drug Policy Alliance, NYCLU President Donna Lieberman, LatinoJustice PRLDEF Executive Director Juan Cartagena, National Action Network Northeast Regional Director Kristen John Foy, Make the Road NY, Brooklyn Defenders Services, Immigrant Defense Project, Families for Freedom, New York Harm Reduction Educators, Center for Popular Democracy, Communities United for Police Reform, Brotherhood Sister Sol, 1199SEIU, and community members who have been arrested for marijuana possession, and advocates from community health and safety organizations

Last year, there were nearly 30,000 marijuana possession arrests in New York City alone. Based on first-quarter data obtained from the state Division of Criminal Justice Services, NYPD is now on track to make nearly as many marijuana possession arrests in 2014 as it did in 2013, with similarly shocking racial disparities.

Proposals to fix New York’s marijuana possession law have stalled in Albany the past few years. With the continued staggering racial disparities and Governor Cuomo’s recommitment to ending marijuana arrests, Assembly member Camara and Senator Squadron along with community members and advocates are calling for reforms that not only end racially bias marijuana arrests but also address the racial bias in the NY criminal justice system and deal with the devastating collateral consequences of these racially biased arrests.


1. End the racially biased and unlawful arrests of tens of thousands of New Yorkers every year by fixing the law regarding possession of small amounts of marijuana.
In 1977, New York decriminalized private marijuana possession, making it a violation, not a criminal offense (a misdemeanor), but public possession of marijuana was made a misdemeanor. The difference in public/private penalties established a loophole in the law and confusion among law enforcement, and leading to New York becoming the marijuana arrest capital of the world. Approximately 86% of those arrested for possessing small amounts of marijuana are Black and Latino – mostly young men — despite government studies that consistently show that young white men use marijuana at higher rates. Indeed, in New York City, if this trend continues, NYPD is on track to make as many or more marijuana possession arrests in 2014 as they did in 2013. This bill would standardize the penalty for public and private possession of small amounts of marijuana – possession of small amounts of marijuana would remain unlawful, and those violating the law would face a violation and possible fine.

2. Create a process for those who have been convicted of public possession of small amounts of marijuana to clear their records.
Over the last 20 years, approximately 600,000 New Yorkers have been arrested for possession of small amounts of marijuana in public view – which, under this bill, is no longer a misdemeanor. The vast majority of those arrested had never before been in trouble with the law.  The human and fiscal costs of arrests and convictions are staggering. Those arrested are saddled with a criminal record that can follow them for the rest of their lives – easily found on the internet by banks, schools, employers, landlords, and licensing boards. Elected officials from President Obama to New York Governor Cuomo acknowledge that marijuana arrests are racially biased, predominantly impact low-income people, and are a waste of finite law enforcement resources. This provision will allow those people who were victims of New York’s broken marijuana policies to vacate – and seal – their record.

3. Reduce the harms of collateral consequences resulting from marijuana possession arrests and non-criminal violations.
Marijuana possession arrests and convictions cause tremendous harm. Nurses, security guards, and others licensed by the state can lose their licenses and their jobs from just one misdemeanor marijuana arrest. For immigrants, two guilty pleas to even a non-criminal marijuana possession violation can lead to deportation, and one guilty plea can bar someone from ever returning to the U.S. Family court can remove children from a home because a parent is convicted or just arrested for marijuana possession. A person cannot be considered for public housing with an "open criminal case," including the typical probation for a first arrest for marijuana possession. Under current law, a person can get an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal (ACD) only once. This bill will provide judicial flexibility to grant additional ACD’s instead of a guilty plea for a marijuana possession offense if a judge deems appropriate. Nobody should be deported or lose their job for simple possession of marijuana.

4. Standardize the time for sealing a marijuana possession conviction from three years to automatically upon conviction (i.e. immediately), aligning the waiting period for sealing a marijuana violation conviction with all other violation level offenses.

5. Establish a process to utilize racial/ethnic impact statements for future legislation that modifies New York's penal code.
Much like environmental and fiscal impact statements, racial/ethnic impact statements help inform legislators before a bill has passed, how proposed legislation may serve to exacerbate racial/ethnic disparities in our criminal justice system.

6. Fix the definition of what constitutes a “sale” of marijuana.
Under the current law, people who share a marijuana cigarette are considered drug dealers. The Fairness and Equity Act fixes this provision in the law. Possessing or sharing marijuana would remain unlawful, whereas only those individuals who actually sold marijuana would be charged with a criminal sales offense.

7. Include as a purpose of New York’s penal law the goal of ensuring that laws are enforced equally and fairly and do not result in a disparate impact on people because of their race and ethnicity.

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

Sign up for updates from DPA.