Press Release  | 06/11/2012

Tuesday: Hundreds Travel to Albany to Pressure State Leaders to Pass Legislation That Would End the 50,000+ Annual Unlawful, Biased, Costly Marijuana Possession Arrests in New York

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Drive to Pass Legislation Comes on Heels of Cuomo, Bloomberg, Kelly, DA's Announcing Support for Closing Major Loophole in State's Marijuana Decriminalization Law

Wednesday: NY City Council to Vote on Resolution Calling for Support of New Law, Advocates to Meet at One Police Plaza at 11 a.m. to Support City Council Resolution

NEW YORK: On Tuesday, June 12th, hundreds of concerned people from around New York will travel to Albany to pressure state leaders to pass legislation that would end the biased and costly practices of falsely arresting tens of thousands of people in New York every year for low-level marijuana possession. Advocates will gather outside of the Assembly Chamber at 12 PM and then, the group will deliver a petition  with thousands of signatures from New Yorkers from every part of the state, calling on Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and the Senate to enact reforms.

The following day, on June 13, community groups and national organizations will gather at 1 Police Plaza in New York City as the City Council votes on a resolution, calling for an end to these racially biased, costly, unlawful arrests. The resolution, co-sponsored by a majority of Council members, is expected to pass during the monthly Stated meeting.

Over the past two years, the growing statewide campaign  has gained the support of NY City Council members, state legislators, Governor Cuomo, and, now, Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Ray Kelly.  Additionally all five NYC District Attorneys as well as District Attorneys from Long Island and upstate and police leaders like Rochester Police Department Chief added their support to the legislative reform that would end the practice of arresting tens of thousands of young people for possessing marijuana in public view.  The New York Times, the Daily News, the New York Post, the Syracuse Times-Standard, and the Buffalo News are among the papers that have written editorials in support the of the reform.  However, New York Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos has said he opposes the reform and is standing in the way of these sensible and broadly-supported changes. It’s up to the Senate to act, and up to Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos to do the right thing.

As the video testimonials below show, 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 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.

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 are the two latest additions to the series:

  • Steven was standing outside his job training program with his friends when he offered them mints. Police officers approached Steven and asked him  to show them what he had just passed to his friend’s hand. Without obtaining Steven’s consent, the officers searched his pockets. They eventually found of marijuana in his pocket. Steven was charged with possession of marijuana in public view.
  • Scott is a Bronx Defender Attorney and the director of the Bronx Defender Marijuana Arrest Project. Scott’s project tracks the marijuana arrests cases that occur in the Bronx.

The videos can be found online: http://www.drugpolicy.org/NYarrestvideos. New videos will be posted every day until Wednesday June 13th.

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

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