Marijuana: Legalize, Not Trivialize it, Cuomo Needs to Stop Blowing Smoke

Thursday, March 28 - The Green Party calls for NYS Legislature to legalize the use of marijuana.


The Green Party dismissed Governor
Cuomo's efforts to allegedly decriminalize the possession of a small amount of marijuana as a "public relations gimmick, trying to obscure the fact that the NYC Police Department has been ignoring the existing law on decriminalization that was enacted four decades ago."

The so-called change in the marijuana law was dropped from the budget negotiations due to opposition in the Senate. Lawmakers may also limit the technical change just to NYC.


"Rather than making empty public relations gestures, Cuomo should support marijuana legalization. We should legalize, regulate, and tax it. It is ridiculous that, at a time when the public has voted in other states to legalize marijuana, we have NYS legislators getting stoned as they drive to the state capitol. And it's the height of hypocrisy when they have a record of advocating an escalation of the counterproductive war on drugs, as Assembly member Katz does," noted Gloria Mattera, co-chair of the Green Party of New York.


The Greens noted that when Assembly member Steve Katz was recently discovered with a 25 gram bag of marijuana after the police pulled him over for speeding, he was released on an appearance ticket and allowed to continue on to the state capitol. They pointed to the disparity of Katz's treatment compared to the hundreds of thousands of arrests made for marijuana possession on stop-and-frisk searches that target blacks and Latinos.


"Cuomo is blowing smoke when he spins media on drug reform. He is pushing a small technical amendment to the forty-year old decriminalization law merely because the NYC Mayor and Police Chief can get their officers to provide equal treatment under the law for blacks and Latinos," added Michael O'Neil, the other Green Party co-chair.


A recent report by the Drug Policy Alliance and the Marijuana Arrest Research Project found that the NYPD spent 1 million hours making 440,000 arrests for low-level marijuana possession charges between 2002 and 2012. As part of the city's stop-and-frisk program, which racially profiles people of color, if an individual in possession of a small amount of marijuana empties his or her pockets at police request and they have a joint, they face a misdemeanor arrest for public display of pot rather than a mere violation for possession.


During the 2010 gubernatorial campaign, the Green Party called for the use of marijuana to be legalized in New York State.


"This country has had almost a century of drug prohibition and four decades of the war on drugs. Yet there are more drugs at cheaper prices on our streets than ever before. We have spent hundreds of billions of dollars on interdiction alone. Those who insist on a continuation of drug 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 a criminal justice issue. 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 Howie Hawkins of Syracuse, the Green Party's 2010 candidate for governor.


"Drug policy reform is an issue of racial justice as much as criminal justice because drug law enforcement has clearly targeted low-income black and Latino communities. 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 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,” Hawkins said, “the arrest rate for blacks is nearly ten times that for whites, even though possession of two ounces in marijuana was decriminalized in NYS decades ago. NYC is known as the marijuana arrest capitol of the world. Nearly 90% of all those arrested for possession of marijuana in NYC are black and Latino. The war on drugs has been a war on black and brown people and it is time to end it.”