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.”
Myfoxdc.com reported on a business seminar sponsored by the Marijuana Policy Project and the National Cannabis Industry Association yesterday to educate entrepreneurs about Maryland’s new medical marijuana law and growing industry.
The law allows state residents suffering from certain qualifying conditions to use marijuana, if recommended by a doctor. It also authorizes 15 licensed marijuana cultivators to operate in the state.
“For many patients we know that this is the best treatment for their conditions,” stated Rachelle Yeung, legislative analyst at the Marijuana Policy Project. “Since Maryland is only issuing 15 growing licenses, competition is fierce. This is a serious business,” she said.
Maryland has rules in place covering banking, product safety, and where dispensaries can be located. Put simply, the medical marijuana business industry will be well regulated and efficient. However, for those looking to operate, it will not be an inexpensive business venture. The overall price — including the $125,000 to get in the business, $40,000 to run a dispensary, and up to $6,000 in application fees — amounts to a little less than $200,000.
According to Maryland State Senator Jamie Raskin, the high cost helps determine who is serious about entering the medical marijuana industry and financially able to maintain the strictest professional standards. Such requirements were designed by lawmakers to ensure a safe and tightly controlled medical marijuana system, yet there are valid criticisms that they create barriers of entry for poor communities or people who have previously been victimized by the war on marijuana.
Medical marijuana applications for the 15 growing licenses are expected to be collected at the beginning of 2015, and the first patients could start receiving their medication by early 2016.
Phillymag.com reported today that Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter signed Jim Kenney’s bill that replaces criminal penalties for the possession of small amounts of marijuana with a civil fine, similar to a traffic ticket. The bill is set to go into effect on October 20, 2014.
The initial version of the bill approved by the city council on June 19 makes possession of up to one ounce of marijuana a civil offense, punishable by a $25 fine. After negotiations between the mayor and members of the city council, the final version of the bill was amended to include a $100 fine for public consumption, or a nine-hour community service requirement.
“Philadelphia voters and their elected officials are fed up with laws that criminalize people for possessing a substance that is less harmful than alcohol,” said Rachelle Yeung, legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project. “They disproportionately impact communities of color and do nothing to make people safer. We applaud city officials for taking this important step toward a more sensible marijuana policy. It is time for the rest of the state to follow its lead.”
Possession of over 30 grams, as well as distribution irrespective of weight, however, still registers as a criminal offense. A tweet from the city of Philadelphia says you are also still subject to arrest for failing to show proper identification to a police officer if caught with marijuana under the new law.
According to WSHU.org, New York’s health department is asking permission from the federal government to import out-of-state medical marijuana until its own program is able complete the regulatory process.
The program requires the health department to establish rules and license marijuana production companies. The health department, however, says that it will take until 2016 to get the program started.
Until then, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration has requested the Department of Justice to permit importation of medical marijuana from states with existing functional programs.
Although the federal government could potentially grant such a waiver, or simply exercise prosecutorial discretion, patients in the Empire State should not hold their breath.
MPP’s Rachelle Yeung says the federal government has been slow to recognize the medical benefits of marijuana, and that Gov. Cuomo has been equally slow to implement medical marijuana.
“I don’t want to speculate as to his motivations, but as governor of the state of New York, there are ways to expedite the process without asking for special permission from the federal government.”
Furthermore, Yeung relays that it typically takes years for the federal government to allow researchers access to medical marijuana. To avoid this delay, she and other marijuana advocacy groups are urging Cuomo’s administration to accelerate the regulatory and production processes within the state.
Pennsylvania lawmakers returned to the Capitol from their summer recess Monday, while medical marijuana supporters rallied for Senate Bill 1182, or the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Act. This bill would allow doctors to recommend extracted oil, edible products, ointments, and other marijuana-based products to patients with debilitating medical conditions.
[caption id="" align="alignright" width="200"] Sen. Daylin Leach[/caption]
Senate Bill 1182 co-sponsors, Sen. Mike Folmer (R-Lebanon) and Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery/Delaware), said their bill could be sent to the floor next week.
“We are so close. We are closer than we have ever been,” stated Senator Leach. “If this runs in the Senate, we get more than 40 votes, and we are promised it will run next week in the Senate. We have counted in the House. There are 203 members. We have counted about 160 yes votes,” he said.
However, although they have gathered enough votes in the House, there is still concern from the Senate that House leadership may block the bill before reaching the floor.
According to Rachelle Yeung, legislative analyst at the Marijuana Policy Project, “We know that there is overwhelming support amongst Pennsylvania voters for medical cannabis, and it’s time for their legislators to step up and really represent the will of the people.”
Sen. Folmer thanked the crowd on the Capitol steps for their grassroots efforts and reassured that they were very close, and that things were looking good.
Following the rally, the group that organized it, Campaign for Compassion, continued their educational efforts by handing out informational packets on medical marijuana and talking to their representatives.
“Hopefully, they will learn this is something Pennsylvania needs and they will stand up and do what is right and put the political horse trading to the side,” said Christine Brann, a Campaign for Compassion ambassador.
After being approved by the General Assembly on Saturday, a bill that would replace current penalties for possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana with a fine passed the Maryland Senate. The bill will now go to Gov. Martin O'Malley, who has indicated he will sign the bill into law. This would make Maryland the 18th state to decriminalize simple possession of marijuana.
Watch MPP's Rachelle Yeung talk about this major victory: