Press Release  | 06/13/2012

Advocates to Meet at One Police Plaza at 11 a.m. to Support City Council Resolution to be Voted at State Meeting Calling for End to Marijuana Arrest Crusade in NYC

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Resolution Supports Legislation in Albany to Clarify Existing Marijuana Law; Advocates Continue to Pressure State Leaders to Pass Legislation to End Discriminatory, Costly, and Unlawful Arrests for Marijuana in Public View

Today, elected officials, community groups and national organizations will gather at 1 Police Plaza in New York City before the City Council votes on a resolution calling for an end to racially biased, costly, unlawful arrests. The resolution, introduced by Council Members Melissa Mark-Viverito and Oliver Koppell, is co-sponsored by a majority of Council members and is expected to pass during the monthly Stated meeting. This is the day after hundreds of community activists went to Albany to deliver thousands of signatures to demand the New York State Senate pass legislation to decriminalize marijuana possession in public view.

“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. “These reforms will go a long way to change that, ending the unjust criminalization of our youth. I am proud that the New York City Council will express its strong support of these reforms today. Small-time marijuana arrests corrupt the intent of the Marihuana Reform Act of 1977. When members of our communities are arrested for marijuana, both the person arrested and their family face a heavy personal toll including losing housing, employment or job offers, and educational admission or financial aid. Governor Cuomo’s proposal would go a long way toward rectifying this injustice. Senate Republicans need to stop playing politics with the lives of our young black and Latino men, and pass this legislation. I want to thank the Drug Policy Alliance and all of the advocates for their steadfast advocacy in support of this legislation.”

The arrest statistics say it all. Nearly 51,000 people were arrested in New York City for marijuana possession in 2011 alone, far exceeding the total marijuana arrests from 1981-1995. Most of those arrested, nearly 85%, are Black and Latino, despite federal government data on drug use showing that Whites use marijuana at higher rates.

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.

“The Governor’s proposal to end criminalization of possession in public view of small amounts of marijuana is a positive step towards ending blatantly discriminatory arrests. This proposal will help the police and the courts to focus on crime that is more serious. I think the Governor is on the right track”, said Council Member Letitia James.

As numerous news articles and research has 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.

“The example is set by those in power; the Mayor and the Police Commissioner are the ones who set policy and it is up to them to stop encouraging unlawful marijuana arrests,” said Joanne Naughton, a former NYPD detective and speaker for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP).  “It is time for them to remove the pressure on police officers for more and more stops and frisks, leading to unlawful marijuana arrests.”

“Low level marijuana arrests are the gateway to a criminal record for many,” said Howard Josepher, founder and President of Exponents, a treatment provider. “Drug courts often send these same individuals for treatment, filling precious drug treatment slots that should be for those with more serious problems.”

"The resolution that we have gathered to support today will not hinder police officers’ ability to make legitimate arrests for drug violation,” said Rashad Robinson, Executive Director of ColorOfChange. “We expect City Council to pass this resolution and strengthen the call to end the racially biased arrests that marginalize communities of color in New York."

Advocates are also set to join tens of thousands for a silent march on June 17th, Father’s Day, to call attention to the hundreds of thousands of stops-and-frisks of people of color in New York City.

“Stop and Frisk is something that happens too often in my community. I myself have been arrested more times than I can count living in my community,” said Alfredo Carasquillo, community organizer with Vocal New York. “This legislation that is being discussed to end unlawful marijuana arrest is important to not only to end racially biased practices and policies but is important to creating healthy and safe communities.“

“This bill 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 bill 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.”

“I’m sure everyone in the Senate – including Majority Leader Skelos -- agrees that it’s unacceptable for the laws to be applied differently to different groups of people based on race, ethnicity, and where people live,” said gabriel sayegh, state director for the Drug Policy Alliance. “But that’s exactly what’s happening right now with these marijuana arrests, which is why we need reform. Governor Cuomo’s proposal -- supported by law enforcement officials from around the state, including on Long Island – is an important step towards equity and fairness.  The only controversial thing about this proposal is the notion that it won’t pass this year.”

Last week, the coalition, including ColorOfChange launched a major online advocacy campaign with a series of compelling stories, illustrating the racist, expensive, and unlawful marijuana arrests.  Below is the latest addition to the series:

  • David is a Legal Aid Attorney in NYC. In Winter 2011, David successfully defended a young man of color who was falsely arrested and charged with marijuana possession in public view. http://youtu.be/w2btHfDHszM

The videos can be found online: http://www.drugpolicy.org/NYarrestvideos. These are the last of videos of the collection highlighting the human impact of unlawful and racially biased marijuana arrests in New York City.

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

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