Yesterday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, joined by legislators, district attorneys, and law enforcement officials, announced legislation that would make the penalties for private and public possession of small amounts of marijuana the same, thereby bringing consistency and fairness to New York State’s Penal Law. Governor Cuomo introduced this new legislation in order to save thousands of New Yorkers, who are disproportionately Black and Hispanic youth, from unnecessary misdemeanor charges.In addition, this new policy looks to extinguish some of the controversy surrounding New York City’s stop-and-frisk policy that has been used in minority communities to target youth. Our New York chapters have spent much of the past school year educating campuses about the harms of the NYC arrest crusade, trained students about their constitutional rights in police encounters, lobbied state lawmakers, and even helped garner sponsors for the bill within the State Senate. With around 50,000 marijuana arrests, costing taxpayers $75 million a year, nearly 70 percent of those arrested are under 30 years old, and most are under 21 years old. Eighty-four percent of those arrested are black and Latino, even though whites use marijuana at higher rates. It’s safe to say that the New York arrest crusade against marijuana users is a crusade against young communities of color.
In his recent press conference, Governor Cuomo said, “Today’s announcement is about creating fairness and consistency in our laws since there is a blatant inconsistency in the way we deal with small amounts of marijuana possession,” said Governor Cuomo. “This is an issue that disproportionately affects young people — they wind up with a permanent stain on their record for something that would otherwise be a violation. The charge makes it more difficult for them to find a job. Together, we are making New York fairer and safer, and ensuring that every New Yorker has access to justice system that doesn’t discriminate based on age or color.” Governor Cuomo also had widespread support from key democratic allies within the New York assembly. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said, “What Governor Cuomo is proposing, is a logical and, unfortunately, necessary clarification of the law as it exists today. It has become clear that marijuana possession is being used, regrettably, to permanently scar and taint the records of thousands of young citizens, predominantly people of color, who have no record of prior criminal conviction. It is excessive on its face and we need to address the issue thoughtfully and swiftly.”It’s clear that lawmakers are finally realizing the impact that even a simple marijuana possession can do to young person’s life. This is not something that is a surprise to us. Our students have been making this argument for a long time, and suddenly it seems to resonate with New York lawmakers.
SSDP echoes the sentiments of Assembly member Hakeem Jeffries, “For years, thousands of New Yorkers, who are disproportionately Black and Latino youth, have been charged with unnecessary misdemeanors, thereby creating barriers for future employment and intensifying tensions between law enforcement and communities. This legislation will ensure that individuals who possess small amounts of marijuana are sanctioned appropriately while avoiding permanent damage on their records. I thank the Governor for treating all New Yorkers justly under New York State law.”, Jeffries said.It seems that after pressure from the media, concerned citizens, and drug policy reformers alike, New York is finally trying to change the way they look at marijuana policy. This is truly a historic moment for New York, for marijuana policy reform, and for young people everywhere. Having Governor Cuomo introduce his own bill, is truly a bold step in the right direction. With support from the media, voters, key members of the State Assembly, and NYC Mayor Bloomberg, we are all very excited to see this sensible policy change move forward.
Evan Nison, President of the Ithaca College SSDP chapter said, “As a young person, I am particularly proud that our activism has finally pushed the Governor to do the right thing. As Governor Cuomo said, young people, specifically young Black and Latino men, are disproportionately impacted by the current stop-and-frisk policy. Students for Sensible Drug Policy was proud to play a role in this historic development.”