Sen. Daniel Squadron is sponsoring the senate version of a bill that would reform punishments for small amounts of marijuana possession
Across New York City and state marijuana is a polarizing issue, but not in the way you might think. It’s the penalty, not the use, that seems to be dividing New Yorkers.
According to an analysis by the New York Civil Liberties Union, black New Yorkers are 4.5 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white New Yorkers, despite the fact that the use is nearly equivalent between the groups. In Brooklyn and Manhattan, black New Yorkers are nine times more likely to be arrested.
What accounts for this disparity? Private possession, possession that wouldn’t be discovered by police frisking, is only a violation, while possession of small amounts in public view is a misdemeanor. Many possession arrests come as a result of stop-and-frisk stops, which disproportionately target minorities. Local State Senator Daniel Squadron is sponsoring a bill in the Senate to reform the state’s laws on what should constitute a violation versus a misdemeanor when it comes to marijuana possession. The bill has already passed the Assembly, where it was sponsored by Assembly Member Karim Camara (D-Brooklyn), and Governor Cuomo has stated his strong support for reforming the in-plain-view marijuana statutes.
“A large number of people carry small amounts of marijuana. But the vast majority of people who get criminal records for it are young black and Latino men. That’s simply immoral and unacceptable,” said Squadron. “None of us should accept living in a place where the color of your skin, your gender, and your age define whether your behavior is a criminal act or not. Reforming the in-plain-view marijuana statute and the inconsistent way it’s enforced would be an important step toward ending these unacceptable racial disparities. It’s time for the Senate to act and bring justice to each and every New York community.”
According to the ACLU report, in 2010 the estimated annual fiscal cost of marijuana possession enforcement in New York was $678,450,560. Marijuana possession accounted for nearly 60 percent of all drug arrests.
“This legal inconsistency has led to tragic consequences with breathtaking racial disparities and it cannot be allowed to stand,” added Senator Liz Krueger, who represents the Upper East Side. “Every day the Senate Majority fails to move this legislation is a stain and an affront to civil rights and justice in New York State.”
“New Yorkers should be embarrassed that our state leads the nation in marijuana arrests,” said New York Civil Liberties Union executive director Donna Lieberman. “The crackdown on low-level marijuana possession happening across our state needlessly hurts individuals and families – subjecting them to all sorts of collateral consequences like the loss of student financial aid and job opportunities. It is time for the Senate to stop stalling and enact this commonsense criminal justice reform.”
“Marijuana arrests in New York are out of control, and they are a stark example of racial bias in policing practices and drug policy in our state,” said Alfredo Carrasquillo, VOCAL-NY’s Civil Rights community organizer. “Even though white youth are more likely to use marijuana, the overwhelming majority of arrests are among black and Latino youth since they are most likely to be stopped and searched by police. Senators Klein and Skelos must allow a vote on this urgent racial justice issue so that we can stop these costly and damaging arrests.”
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