NEW YORK, NY — On January 11, 2018, the New York State Assembly Standing Committees on Codes, Health, and Alcohol and Drug Abuse will convene a public hearing to discuss the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA, S.3040A/A.3506A), a bill that would legalize the production, distribution, and use of marijuana for adults over the age of 21.
This bill will effectively end marijuana prohibition in New York State and would create a system to tax and regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol.
Increasingly, jurisdictions and legislators across the country are realizing that marijuana prohibition has been ineffective, unjust, and disproportionately enforced and are working to implement regulatory systems that are fair and effective.
A poll of New York voters released in late 2017 showed that 62% of New Yorkers support making marijuana use legal in New York for adults over 21, and more than 60% support taxing and regulating marijuana as a way to address the state’s looming budget deficit.
The Assembly hearing comes on the heels of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinding the Cole memo, which previously instructed the Department of Justice to allow states to implement their own marijuana laws with limited federal interference.
Thursday’s Assembly hearing will feature testimony calling for an end to marijuana prohibition in New York from a broad spectrum of advocates, including representatives from civil rights, criminal justice reform, medical researchers and doctors, regulators from states with legal marijuana, medical marijuana advocates, policing experts, immigration rights advocates, former law enforcement, and drug policy reform. Representatives from the Start SMART NY campaign (SMART stands for Sensible Marijuana Access through Regulated Trade), a coalition that supports ending marijuana prohibition in New York, will testify at the hearing.
The ongoing marijuana arrest crusade has led to more than 800,000 people being arrested for possession of small amounts of marijuana in New York State over the past 20 years, with over 700,000 arrests by the NYPD alone.
On average, 60 New Yorkers are arrested every day for marijuana possession, making marijuana possession one of the top arrests in the state. Although drug use and drug selling occur at similar rates across racial and ethnic groups, Black and Latino individuals are arrested for possessing marijuana at vastly disproportionate rates.
In 2016, more than 85% of all those arrested for marijuana possession were Black and Latino; nearly 70% of those arrested were under 30 years old; and over a third were under 21 years old.
“New York’s marijuana arrest crusade has resulted in significant harms for those who are most vulnerable and has been used as a justification for the hyper-policing of communities of color, funneling tens of thousands of New Yorkers into the maze of the criminal justice system every year and putting people at risk of deportation, losing custody of their children, and barring them from employment and housing for nothing more than possessing small amounts of marijuana,” said Kassandra Frederique, New York State Director for the Drug Policy Alliance. “As New York finally sheds its embarrassing distinction of being the marijuana arrest capital of the world, we must repair the harms of prohibition and end the biased policing practices that have ruined the lives of so many young Black and Latino New Yorkers. Ultimately, the best way to address the disparities and challenges posed by prohibition is to legalize and regulate marijuana in New York.”