Should anyone need more proof that marijuana reform is in the New York air, the NYC City Council has just introduced a resolution aimed at stopping the police department’s sickening pattern of abuse against marijuana users and minorities.
Since 2002, when Mayor Michael Bloomberg took over, there have been over 350,000 arrests for possession of small amounts of marijuana. At a whopping 140 arrests per day, New York City has become the “marijuana arrest capital of the world.” So how do NYPD cops manage to make over 50,000 arrests a year in a state where possession of less than 25 grams of cannabis is decriminalized?
They do so by abusing a state law loophole which makes it a criminal offense to openly showcase the same marijuana that would only yield a $100 ticket while in one’s pocket. For years now, police have been targeting mostly young black and latinos and forcing them to bring any marijuana they may have into the open, thus manufacturing a crime where there is none. “We have seen an explosion of marijuana arrests in the city largely focused on blacks and latinos,” says Brooklyn Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries. “We have young black and Latino men, who are doing nothing, on the street corner: stopped, questioned, frisked, harassed, dehumanized, embarrassed; asked without any justification, legally or constitutionally, to ‘show us everything that’s in your pocket.’”
Is this policy, which Mayor Bloomberg (the same man who, when asked in 2001 if he ever smoked marijuana, said: “You bet I did. And I enjoyed it”) defended arguing that changing the law would encourage public smoking, truly racially biased? The numbers speak for themselves, and its not pretty: although government studies have consistently shown that a higher percentage of whites smokes marijuana compared to minorities, a mind-boggling 86% of those arrested for possession by NYC cops are black or hispanic.
The resolution may not have much bite, it’s only a formal show of support for a bill in the State Assembly that seeks to fix the law and decriminalize open possession, but the City Council is certainly making a lot of noise over it. Just this past May, Council members organized a big protest against this marijuana policy, calling it “a corruption of the intent of the law.” During the August 17th rally, council members took the rhetoric much further.
Assemblyman Jeffries called the law “unjust, undemocratic, unreasonable and unconscionable,” while Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito stated that the people of New York “will not allow our young people to be criminalized anymore.” Councilman Jumaane Williams probably had the harshest words: “What I would like the mayor to do is just be honest: Tell young black and Latino youngsters that they are not equal citizens in New York City; It is more dangerous to have them believe that they are.”
With neighbor New Jersey moving ahead with it’s medical marijuana program and national attitudes changing at an ever faster pace, the people New York may indeed be fed up with spending $75 million a year on marijuana enforcement. The undeniable racist component of the current policy adds a lot of fuel to the fire and will hopefully result in a powerful drive for reform.
Legislators have already been talking about the need to legalize medical marijuana in New York; this is be their chance to do so through comprehensive marijuana reform that closes the decriminalization loophole, established clear enforcement guidelines and established a New York medical marijuana program for patients in need.
Disclaimer: These opinions and statements made in these posts are solely the authors and do not necessarily represent the opinion of 420 Petition and its parent company.