Just days ago, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio overhauled the city’s marijuana policy by instructing law enforcement officers to issue tickets for marijuana possession instead of arresting offenders. Now, the City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito is going a step further and calling for making the substance legal.
“It’s not something we can just do randomly, but with a thought process, and looking how it’s being implemented in other areas. But I do support the legalization of marijuana,” she said at City Hall.
Mark-Viverito’s stance makes her the highest-ranking city official to support adopting such a policy, although it puts her at odds with Mayor de Blasio who does not support making marijuana legal in New York.
“States are speaking,” Mark-Viverito said. “Based on the conversations that we see happening nationally, and how people feel about it, I think that it’s just something that is appropriate at this time.”
The Drug Policy Alliance, a leading advocacy group based in New York City, praised the city council speaker’s stance:
“Speaker Melissa Mark Viverito’s announcement further proves that marijuana legalization is a mainstream issue,” said Kassandra Frederique, the group’s New York policy manager. “It is especially important that elected officials of color lead and frame this conversation as the harms of marijuana prohibition and criminalization overwhelmingly affect their communities,” she added.
New York City Mayor and Police Chief Announce New Marijuana Policy; Reform Advocates Say It Is Not Enough
The New York Police Department will stop arresting people for the possession of small amounts of marijuana and instead issue civil citations, city officials stated Monday, citing both a severe racial disparity in the law’s implementation and the burden of arrests on the criminal justice system as reasons for the change.
With the implementation of this new policy, citizens who are stopped by the police with small amounts of marijuana will receive civil summonses, similar to parking tickets, instead of permanent arrest records that limit opportunities later in life.
“Now there will be fewer unnecessary, low-level marijuana arrests,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio, who ran on a campaign last year emphasizing police reform. “That energy goes into fighting more serious crime.”
Bill Bratton, the NYPD Police Commissioner, said he hopes narcotics officers will start going after big transactions or more dangerous drugs – not small amounts of marijuana.
“I want those narcotics buy-and-busts focusing on significant sales of marijuana, or the emerging problem drug we’re having, heroin,” Bratton told reporters on Monday.
Marijuana policy reform advocates regard the new policy move as a good step in the right direction, though they believe much more needs to be done before New York City’s marijuana laws can be considered fair.
“These laws have been used as a means of targeting and harassing people of color,” said Rachelle Yeung, a legislative analyst at the Marijuana Policy Project.
Moreover, Yeung said that despite the reforms, New Yorkers who purchase marijuana still have to face the dangers associated with an illegal transaction, unlike in states where the substance is legal and regulated.
“In places like Washington state and Colorado, and soon in Oregon and Alaska, people are buying it [marijuana] from safe businesses,” Yeung stated. “But in New York City, people are still going to criminal markets where some people might have weapons or are trying to sell harder and more dangerous drugs. All over the United States, people are using marijuana. That is just a fact.”
More than 80 percent of the people arrested for the possession of marijuana during the first eight months of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration were people of color, according to the Drug Policy Alliance.
During de Blasio’s run for mayor last year, he vowed to direct the NYPD to reduce the number of marijuana arrests citywide.
However, between the months of January and August 2013, there were 20,080 marijuana possession arrests; during the same period this year, there were 19,684 arrests, which accounts for a drop of about two percent, according to the data and a report provided by DPA.
The current mayor also took a firm stance concerning the treatment of first time offenders, saying that:
“First time offenses for possession of small amounts of marijuana are supposed to be punishable by fine only, unless publicly displayed.”
However, statistics show that under de Blasio, the NYPD still continues to arrest first time offenders rather than fining them. According to the Drug Policy Alliance, almost 75 percent of the people arrested for marijuana possession under de Blasio have been first time offenders.
Moreover, since de Blasio has been the mayor of New York City, 85 percent of the individuals arrested for marijuana possession were either black or Latino, and the number of black people arrested was more than four times higher than the number of white people arrested for the same charge.
Most shockingly, in all but two precincts this year (not including Central Park), the percentage of black people and Latinos arrested for marijuana possession is more than their percentage of the population, according to census data obtained from the New York Civil Liberties Union.
In the end, there is a blatant and obvious pattern that the percentage of arrests of black and Latino individuals is disproportionate. Furthermore, the reality is not that these populations use or possess marijuana more than their white counterparts. Use rates are similar across racial demographics. The reality is that these arrests are racially oriented and destroying countless lives.