We Matter Too: Ending Racist Marijuana Arrests Must Remain Cuomo Priority

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January 8, 2014 - By Kassandra Frederique

This week, news spread nationwide that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo will bypass the state legislature to enact a 35 year-old law to bring medical marijuana to suffering New Yorkers.

It is a bold and innovative step that shows the leadership that is needed in New York. When asked about his other major marijuana reform proposal, however, a plan to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, the New York Post reported Cuomo responded that possession arrests due to stop-and-frisk are no longer a major factor.

Thousands of New Yorkers of color undoubtedly would disagree with the governor’s statement. Last June, The ACLU released a blistering report, The War in Marijuana in Black and White, and the conclusion is that racial disparate marijuana arrests are a statewide issue, every county has a marijuana arrests issue in New York, not just New York City as Governor Cuomo suggests.

And just to be clear, arrests are still happening.

Over the last four months our own researchers continued to visit courts in New York City. They interviewed people in Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Manhattan – all three courts which comprise most of the arrests in New York City. While we found that while marijuana arrests have gone down in conjunction with stop and frisks, marijuana arrests are still the number one arrest in New York and they are still racist.

Based on our interviews, NYPD is still mischarging young people and in essence manufacturing arrests. Research finds that most people arrested for marijuana possession did not have it in public view (a misdemeanor), but had a small amount in a pocket and were either tricked by the police to reveal it – or, worse, many people are illegally searched. These people are then falsely charged for possessing marijuana in public view, and arrested. While the number of arrests is declining, the racial disproportionality has not changed.
 
New York needs a permanent solution and New Yorkers need it now. Not only do we need a statewide fix, we need the solution to be more robust than even currently proposed.

Gov. Cuomo said it best last January when he said, “There must be parity… so there is fairness and parity in the system and we stop stigmatizing these young people, making it harder to find a job. Making it harder to get into school. Making it harder to turn their lives around at a very young age.”

The time to wait for young New Yorkers of color is over. New York City voted in a new “progressive” administration with Mayor de Blasio, and Mayor de Blasio and Commissioner Bratton must act immediately to end racially disparate rules, bring NYPD in accordance with the law, and together the administration needs to bring New York City in 21st century drug policy reform.
 
So from this black woman, Gov. Cuomo, racist marijuana arrests are a major factor. You said it yourself last January, “it’s not fair, it’s not right. It must end, and it must end now.”

Kassandra Frederique is a New York policy coordinator for the Drug Policy Alliance.

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