Howie Hawkins Endorses Marijuana Legalization

Howie Hawkins, the Green Party candidate for Governor, speaking at SUNY Albany, called for the use of marijuana to be legalized in New York State.

"This country has had almost a century of drug prohibition, four decades of the war on drugs, yet there are more drugs at cheaper prices on our streets than ever before and we have spent hundreds of billions of dollars on interdiction alone. Those who insist on a continuation of 21st century Prohibition are agreeing that both production and distribution of drugs be left in control of criminals, funding terrorists and cartels such as those fueling the drug violence in Mexico. Drug use should be handled as a public health issue, not one of crime. It is time to legalize, regulate, and tax so-called recreational drugs, like we do alcohol and tobacco. The European countries that have tried this approach have virtually eliminated drug-related crimes and reduced the population of drug users," said Hawkins.

Hawkins said it was absurd that New York lawmakers can't even agree to legalize marijuana for medical uses. He criticized the major party candidates, Democrat Andrew Cuomo and Republican Carl Paladino, for their silence on drug policy reform.

"Drug policy reform is an issue of racial justice as much as criminal justice because drug law enforcement has clearly targetted low-income black and latino communities. Andrew Cuomo went to Harlem last week to scare progressives back into his fold by talking about Carl Paladino's extreme views on abortion, an issue that is not in play because restrictions of choice will never make any headway in the state Assembly. But Cuomo said nothing about racial profiling, an issue that is in play and a major grievance for blacks and latinos. Cuomo has not investigated this problem as Attorney General, even though 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care urged him to do so last February. The group was responding to police data that showed a record 575,304 people - 87% of them black or Latino - were stopped and questioned by New York City police officers in 2009. Only 6% of those stopped were arrested."

Hawkins said that a side benefit of legalizing marijuana is that taxing it, like we do with alcohol and tobacco, would help reduce the state budget deficit. The proposed 30% sales tax on marijuana in California would bring in an estimated $1.4 billion. It would also save the state funds by reducing criminal justice costs.

In California, Proposition 19, the ballot initiative that would legalize personal possession and growth statewide, while allowing counties to individually legalize commercial sales, enjoys a 47 -38 percent advantage according to a Sept. 14 -16 survey. However, the alcohol industry is pouring money into defeating the proposition due to the fear on increased competition. Businesses involved in the state's medical marijuana industry are also apparently funding opposition to the law, concerned that legalization would drive down prices for their product.

"The 'war on drugs' has turned into a war on young people, the poor, and African Americans, Latinos, and other people of color. The Democratic and Republican parties ignore the human and economic devastation in many communities caused by the war on drugs. Instead, the two major parties posture about law and order and endorse failed measures, wasting tax dollars, ruining lives and increasing violence in our neighborhoods. We need to stop spending $50 billion a year nationally on the drug war, and use that money for treatment and rebuilding poor communities of color," said Hawkins.

A study by the American Civil Liberties Union ("Cracks in the System: Twenty Years of Unjust Federal Crack Cocaine Law," October 2006) found that 37% of people arrested, 59% of people convicted, and 74% of those sent to prison are African American, even though only 15% of drug users are African American.

The rate of incarceration for marijuana offenses in New York for blacks is nearly 3.8 times that of whites. In some communities like Syracuse, the rate is nearly ten times that of whites.  All despite the fact the possession of two ounces in marijuana was decriminalized in NYS decades ago.

NYC is known as the marijuana arrest capitol of the world, with 40,000 arrested in 2008 at a cost of $90 million. Nearly 90% of all those arrested for possession of marijuana in NYC are Black and Latino. Whites comprise 35% of the City population, but make up less than 10% of all those arrested for possession of marijuana. Personal possession of two ounces or less is the equivalent of a traffic violation, akin to jaywalking or riding your bicycle on the sidewalk--an infraction, not a criminal offense. Possessing or using "marijuana in public view" however remains a misdemeanor offense. According to a report by Queens Professor Dr. Levine, the vast majority of those arrested in NYC aren't smoking in public at all. Instead, the marijuana is uncovered as part of the NYPD's massive stop-and-frisk program, which overwhelmingly targets Black and Latino men. The police tell someone to empty their pockets, and once that person pulls out a small amount of marijuana, they are thus charged with "marijuana in public view."

"Law enforcement should focus efforts on organized crime, including the laundering of drug money at banks, rather than on street-level drug use or trade, in which kids who get arrested -- or killed -- are quickly replaced," said Hawkins. "Addictive use should be treated as a medical and social problem. Locking up addicts in stressed prison environments, with minimal effort to address the addiction itself, and then freeing them to go back into the same circumstances that led to their abuse of drugs has only aggravated the problem of addiction. And too many of them still get their drugs while in prison. Apparently, their keepers would rather have them drugged up and pacified. We need rational solutions to the problems of drug abuse that are based on science and health, compassion for addicts and their families, harm reduction rather than mass incarceration, and respect for basic civil liberties and principles of justice."

Marijuana is not a lethal drug and is safer than alcohol. It is established scientific fact that marijuana is not toxic to humans; marijuana overdoses are nearly impossible, and marijuana is not nearly as addictive as alcohol or tobacco. Hawkins said it is unfair and unjust to treat marijuana users more harshly under the law than the users of alcohol or tobacco. The dangers of marijuana use have been exaggerated for almost a century and the modern scientific record does not support the "reefer madness" predictions of the past and present.

Legalized marijuana would reduce the flow of money from the American economy to international criminal gangs. Marijuana's illegality makes foreign cultivation and smuggling to the United States extremely profitable, sending billions of dollars overseas in an underground economy while diverting funds from productive economic development.