Press Release  | 06/14/2013

Elected Officials, Impacted People and Advocacy Groups Joined to Call on Albany Leadership to Put Marijuana Arrest Reform Bill on Senate Floor for Vote

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Legislation Will Save State Tens of Millions of Dollars Per Year, Bring Fairness and Equity to Broken Marijuana Law, and Prevent Tens of Thousands of Illegal Arrests This Year

New ACLU Report Finds That Marijuana Arrests Cost Taxpayers Over $675 Million Per Year; Arrests Lead to Egregious Racial Disparities in All NY Counties

NYC: Today, New York elected officials called on Senate leaders to put to a vote a bill that will end the biased and costly practices of falsely arresting tens of thousands of people in New York for low-level marijuana possession. They were joined by dozens of advocates and impacted people to urge passage before the legislative session ends next week. The proposal outlined in Gov. Cuomo’s 2013 State of the State Address would decriminalize possessing up to 15 grams of marijuana in public view, while smoking in public would remain a misdemeanor. One year ago, the NY City Council voted on a resolution to support legislation in Albany to end these arrests. Since that legislation failed to pass last year, nearly 50,000 more people were arrested as a result of this broken law. Fixing the law would help end the practice of arresting tens of thousands of young people per year for possessing marijuana in public view when police demand that someone “empty their pockets” during a stop-and-frisk encounter.

S.3105A(Squadron)/A.6717A(Camara) passed the Assembly two weeks ago with a strong, bi-partisan vote. The Senate has 4 days to act before the end of session in order to prevent tens of thousands of unlawful arrests for marijuana possession each year in New York costing the state hundreds of millions of dollars. The reform proposal outlined by Governor Cuomo is supported by dozens of community organizations throughout the state, state legislators, Mayor Bloomberg, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly, all five NYC District Attorneys (Democrat and Republican) and law enforcement from Long Island, Buffalo, and Albany. 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.

"For too long, a loophole in the 1977 marijuana possession law has led to the law being applied differently to different groups of people based solely on race, age and geography," said Black, Puerto Rican, Latino and Asian Legislative Caucus Chairman Assembly Member Karim Camara (D-Brooklyn, 43rd AD), who is the Assembly sponsor of the legislation. "By closing this loophole and standardizing the law, this legislation will help restore fairness, equity, and sensibility to our marijuana possession laws. Marijuana remains illegal, and penalties for possessing it remain on the books, but no longer will someone incur a lifelong criminal record for simple possession. This is a civil rights issue, and I’m proud of my colleagues in the Assembly for passing this important bill. Now it’s time for our colleagues in the Senate to act, so we can deliver this bill to Governor Cuomo for his signature.”

"Let's be clear: a large number of people carry small amounts of marijuana. But the vast majority of people who get criminal records for it are young Black and Latino men," said Senator Daniel Squadron (D-Brooklyn/Manhattan), who is the Senate sponsor of legislation to reform the in-plain-view marijuana statute. "In fact, Black New Yorkers in Brooklyn and Manhattan are nine times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white New Yorkers. That's simply immoral and unacceptable. None of us should accept living in a place where the color of your skin, your gender, and your age define whether your behavior is a criminal act or not. Reforming the in-plain-view marijuana statute and the inconsistent way it's enforced would be an important step toward ending these unacceptable racial disparities. It's time for the Senate to act and bring justice to each and every New York community."

A new ACLU report released found that there are more marijuana possession arrests in NY than in any other state. In 2010, NY made nearly 104,000 marijuana possession arrests, making it the number one state in the country for such arrests. New York made nearly twice as many marijuana possession arrests as Florida or California. These arrests cost the state over $675 million dollars in enforcement expenditures. The arrests also made New York the leader in racial disparities nationally – of the 15 counties with the highest Black arrest rates for marijuana possession in the country in 2010, three (or 20%) were in New York – Onondaga (#5), Chautauqua (#10), and Broome (#14).

“Stop and frisk is meant to curb gun violence, but guns are found in less than 0.2% of stops according to the ACLU. Instead, an overwhelming percentage of stops result in an arrest for small amounts of marijuana,” said Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Westchester). These arrests, which are usually of young people of color, go on permanent records which impact housing, educational and professional prospects. We must pass a marijuana standardization law now.”

"We want a New York and an America where people are treated equally at all levels, including the criminal justice system. The great racial disparities in marijuana arrests, the inhuman policy of stop and frisk, speak to the great divides in our state and country in spite of all the progress since Dr. King's 'I Have A Dream' speech exactly 50 years ago. The ACLU report on these racial disparities should be an outrage to any citizen concerned about justice for all," said Kevin Powell, president and cofounder of BK Nation.

“We cannot allow the 2013 Legislative Session to conclude without reforming these laws that are racially biased and targeted toward young adults of color,” said Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson (D-Bronx/Westchester). “By failing to agree upon a fair and equal policing practice regarding small amounts of marijuana, we harm the future of many young adults who are forced into the criminal justice system based upon a biased application of the law.”

Since 2002, nearly 500,000 million people have been arrested in New York  for marijuana possession – the vast majority of those arrests (440,000) took place in New York City. Last year alone in the City, there were nearly 40,000 such arrests, far exceeding the total marijuana arrests in NYC from 1981-1995. A report released earlier this year found that the NYPD had spent one million hours making these arrests over the past decade.

"Recently, my colleagues and I in the Assembly stood up to show New Yorkers that we heard their cries for reforming a severely outdated law,” said Assembly Member Robert Rodriguez (D- East Harlem). From the $75 million economic benefit of unclogging our legal justice system, to the fairness of removing from the equation policies that disproportionately affect young Black and Hispanic youth and limit their ability to contribute to our economy and society, the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana will help stop our youth from attaining criminal records and will free up law enforcement to investigate dangerous criminals. Now, we stand here today to call upon the Senate and Governor Cuomo to also give New Yorkers the reform that they deserve.”

“We must put an end to this illogical and frequently discriminatory law that has mutated beyond its original intent and become a catalyst for hundreds of thousands of unjust arrests and damaged futures, particularly in minority communities,” said Senator Jose Peralta (D-Queens). “We waste countless thousands of police man hours and countless millions of dollars on a policy that does society vastly more harm than good. Let’s bring some sanity to this corner of our criminal justice system and stop this practice before it  does any further damage.”

“It is unacceptable that a technicality is saddling thousands of New Yorkers, in particular minorities, with criminal records and costing tax payers millions of dollars,” said Senator Gustavo Rivera (D-Bronx). "We need to pass the marijuana decriminalization bill to create a more efficient and just criminal justice system.”

"I represent the 75th police precinct in Brooklyn which has the highest amount of stop and frisks in New York City,” said Assembly Member Rafael L. Espinal, Jr (D-Brooklyn). “Therefore, I know passing marijuana decriminalization in New York State will promote fairness and equality for all – especially those in our Black and Latino communities. This legislation will assist in ending an unconstitutional, economically draining, and racially biased policy surrounding the possession of marijuana in small amounts."

“We simply cannot wait any longer as tens of millions of dollars are squandered each year on ineffective marijuana arrests that disproportionately target communities of color in New York City,” said New York City Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-El Barrio/East Harlem), sponsor of last year’s NYC Council resolution supporting legislation in Albany to end these unlawful arrests. “This loophole in the existing marijuana decriminalization law must be closed for good. The bill before the State Legislature has been discussed for several years now and has gotten the support of the Governor, Mayor, Police Commissioner and City Council. We’ve had enough delays. We need action in the Senate now.”

“It really makes no sense that New York State has yet to fix the illegal marijuana arrest problem targeting young black and Latino men and damaging their futures. A broad coalition of leaders, including Governor Cuomo, Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Kelly, all stand behind the decriminalization legislation. Yet, the Republicans of the State Senate are stonewalling meaningful reform,” said New York City Council Member Jumaane Williams (D- Brooklyn).  We must stand together at this time to demand an end to the obstruction and an end to the discrimination.”

"Not only does the continued criminalized status of marijuana result in unnecessary arrests of hundreds of thousands of young people each year, but it highlights a gross misallocation of resources in the justice system, “ said New York City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez (D- Northern Manhattan). If we tasked our police departments and courts with arresting and prosecuting violent criminals rather than those whose actions are victimless, it would be a much better use of their time and our people would be safer for it."

“New York State is wasting valuable resources when 1 of 12 arrests is for marijuana possession,” said New York City Council Member Stephen Levin (D-Brooklyn). “This is common-sense legislation that will put an end to arrests that are wasteful, racially-based, and have a disproportionate impact on our youth. Thank you to Senator Squadron for sponsoring this legislation that will benefit thousands of New Yorkers.”

"Too many young people like me are suffering because of this unjust law and the discriminatory practice of stop and frisk,” said Trisha Wilson, member of SEIU 1199. “Passing this commonsense reform will not only prevent unnecessary arrests but will allow for critical resources to be redirected to healthcare and other community needs. We call on the leadership of the State Senate to bring this important reform legislation to the floor now."

"Marijuana arrests are pointless," said Candis Tolliver, senior organizer for the New York Civil Liberties Union. "They harm families and disrupt lives. They don't improve safety. Yet, police in New York made more than 103,000 arrests for marijuana possession arrests in 2010 – by far the most in the nation. And we as tax payers are footing a nearly $700 million bill for police and court costs alone."

“The passing of this bill is a critical step towards taking a public health approach to drug policy and community safety.  It is also an important building block for addressing civil rights violations taking place in low income communities of color, especially against black and brown youth,” said Kyung Ji Rhee, of the Center for NuLeadership on Urban Solutions.  “This bill signals the burgeoning power and mounting outcry from communities that are stepping forward to take back our children and youth who are saying, ‘teach us, don't cuff us’.”

"I was rushing home from my grandmother's house to a homeless shelter so I could make curfew when police drove up on a curb and pinned me against a fence,” said Shapriece Townsend, a member of VOCAL-NY, describing his experience being falsely arrested in Brooklyn. “After approaching me with their guns drawn, the police searched me and found a small bag of marijuana. They arrested me and held me for three days in central booking. Why are Senators Klein and Skelos standing in the way of reform that would help scale back the criminalization of youth of color like me?"

“The Assembly has passed the bill, and Governor Cuomo will sign it, the votes to pass it in the Senate are there – it’s time for a vote,” said gabriel sayegh, State Director for the Drug Policy Alliance. “We can no longer a law to be applied differently to different groups of people based on race and geography. We need a vote, today. We need reform, now."

Contact: gabriel sayegh 646-335-2264 or Jeremy Saunders 917-676-8041

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