NY Governor Andrew Cuomo
New Proposal Expected to Address “Public View” Loophole
Advocates Hope Renewed Commitment to Decriminalization Will Result in the End of Marijuana Arrest Crusade
ALBANY—(ENEWSPF)–January 13, 2017. Yesterday, Governor Cuomo announced his renewed commitment to decriminalizing marijuana possession in his State of the State Book; which outlines his agenda for the 2017 Legislative Session.
New York State first decriminalized personal marijuana possession in 1977, recognizing the harmful impact an arrest could have on young people. Criminalization of the offense has continued, however, due to a loophole left in the law by lawmakers that distinguished between personal and public view possession, where possession in public view is still a misdemeanor. Enforcement of this loophole has impacted primarily communities of color, who represented more than 83% of those arrested statewide in 2015. The racial disparities in enforcement have been a significant motivator for groups who have called for reform.
“In 2016, Brooklyn Defender Services represented 1,070 of the many thousands of New Yorkers arrested for low-level marijuana possession, of whom 85% were Black and/or Latinx and 371 were 21 or younger. Our clients can lose their jobs, homes, and children, and even be detained by immigration authorities and deported for this offense, which a majority of Americans believe should be legal. We applaud any legislation that will reduce or—better—eliminate these senseless and discriminatory arrests,” said Lisa Schreibersdorf, Executive Director of Brooklyn Defender Services.
Citing the costliness of marijuana possession arrests and the devastating collateral consequences faced by New Yorkers who are arrested for the offense, Governor Cuomo said this proposal was in line with his existing “commitment to reduce the number of nonviolent individuals who become needlessly entangled in the criminal justice system.”
“We are pleased that Governor Cuomo remains committed to ending arrests for low-level marijuana possession in New York and that he recognizes the human and financial cost of marijuana prohibition.” said Alyssa Aguilera, Co-Executive Director, VOCAL-NY. “However, without real political muscle we know that this proposal will continue to languish, as it has for several years now. We hope that by including marijuana decriminalization in his State of the State Book that the Governor will not only support – but also fight for – long overdue marijuana reform.”
More than 800,000 New Yorkers have been arrested for low-level marijuana possession offenses in the last 20 years. A significant portion of those arrested for these offenses still have criminal arrest records that prevent access to services and restrict their opportunity to find meaningful work. The Governor acknowledged the challenges posed by a marijuana possession arrest: “Individuals can miss work, be fired, establish a record that prevents them from finding work in the future, and spend time in jail awaiting trial if they are unable to post bail.”
Governor Cuomo pushed heavily for closing that loophole in 2014 but was blocked by Senate Republicans who opposed a measure that would have standardized the penalty for all low-level possession as a violation, which would have resulted in a fine instead of arrest. These arrests continue, which is why action to remove the penalty is so important.
“New York’s marijuana arrest crusade has resulted in significant harms for those who are most vulnerable and has been used as a justification for the hyper-policing of communities of color. We see the Governor’s proposal as a positive step and also hope to engage with the Governor’s office on sealing the records of those who have been unjustly targeted so that this meaningful change can have the type of impact that is needed” said Chris Alexander, Policy Coordinator, New York, Drug Policy Alliance. “Ultimately, the best way to address the disparities and challenges posed by prohibition is to legalize and regulate marijuana in New York. We look forward to discussing a pathway to ending prohibition with the Governor this session.”
Governor Cuomo’s proposal comes just a few months after California, Maine, Nevada and neighboring Massachusetts joined the four other states that have already voted to tax and regulate the marijuana for adult use.
AM New York
New York may make it easier to carry marijuana, but don’t smoke up yet
By: Mark Chiusano [email protected] January 13, 2017
Gov. Andrew Cuomo gave not one but six State of the State speeches this week, a series of travelling performances from New York City to Buffalo.
He announced big ideas, like free tuition for many public college students and a bold expansion at JFK Airport. But one policy change he didn’t mention: a proposal to decriminalize recreational marijuana, slipped onto page 191 of the formal 380-page State of the State document.
The change in policy could have wide implications around the state. But it’s part of a long history of marijuana policy in New York, which has only ever changed slowly and painstakingly.
Cuomo’s two-page proposal didn’t get into many details. But the “frame work” for the proposed legislation, says Alphonso David, the governor’s counsel, is a 2012 bill that failed in the State Senate.
That proposal would have taken away the criminal penalty for possession of small amounts of marijuana in public view. But “burning” or smoking in a public place would still have been a misdemeanor.
Those distinctions have a long history in the state, where the push and pull between looser and stricter marijuana regulations have often tracked public opinion on levels of policing and the relative strength of the criminal justice system.
Since 1977, personal possession of marijuana has been decriminalized in New York State. But that was the beginning of the huge loophole that advocates and legislators have spent decades arguing over and trying to address: marijuana found in public view or “burning.” In those cases, you’d be slapped with a misdemeanor arrest.
What is illegal in New York when it comes to marijuana?
What it means to burn marijuana was clear: smoking. The “public view” part was less so. That could mean walking around with a fairly big bag of marijuana in your hand. But, as it turned out, marijuana was also in “public view” after police officers asked you to empty your pockets, leading you to display a dime-bag.
This led to particular complaints from New Yorkers during the proactive policing days launched by William Bratton, especially at the height of stop-and-frisk policing in the 90s, when police officers posted in communities of color were directed to perform many stops. The loophole led to many arrests, for a drug that was supposedly decriminalized.
In 2011, then-police commissioner Ray Kelly issued a memo reminding officers of the law, noting that those compelled to show a dime-bag would only be hit with a violation.
Mayor Bill de Blasio ran a campaign based in large part on reforming some of the excesses of the stop-and-frisk era. In 2014, soon after Brooklyn district attorney Ken Thompson announced he would stop prosecuting most low-level marijuana cases, de Blasio and his police commissioner announced their own reform regarding marijuana: Possession of small amounts of marijuana would result in most cases in a criminal court summons, as for public urination. That “baby step” forward, as Christopher Alexander of the Drug Policy Alliance calls it, is less stringent than the arrest for a violation that would have happened under Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Ray Kelly. Marijuana arrests, which had already been dropping since stop-and-frisk fell out of favor, fell even further.
Yet it remains illegal to smoke marijuana in public. And state numbers show that the arrests that still do occur in NYC for low-level marijuana possession of this kind are overwhelmingly minorities.
You can’t have your pot and smoke it, too
Cuomo’s proposal, if it ends up hewing to the 2012 attempt, would essentially make the city’s marijuana rules state policy. Some state legislators have gone further with their own bills that edge progressively closer to full legalization. David, the governor’s counsel, said some aspects of those bills could be pulled into the governor’s, which would be introduced in the coming months.
Meanwhile, Cuomo’s efforts on behalf of medical marijuana have been successful. Medical use is now legal and has been extended in various ways.
The path through the state legislature might be less certain now than previous years, with less of a Democratic and moderate Republican presence. But David contends that we’ve seen “a radical change in how the NYPD has been treating this issue for at least a year and a half.” The fact that NYC hasn’t shown any ill effects from the changed policy means the city could be “a model” for the state, he says.
It’s certainly good politics, given shifting opinions on marijuana here and elsewhere, and the somewhat bipartisan pressure to reform over-prosecution in the criminal justice system.
If those opinions hold, even this small step toward more liberal marijuana policy could be used as a wedge against dissenting Republicans. “It’s important that we move it forward,” said State Sen. Daniel Squadron of the proposal. He has introduced his own bills on the issue since 2012. His characterization of the Republican response? “Stonewalling.”
You have used up your free articles for this month. To continue reading click here to login or subscribe.