New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito announced her support for marijuana legalization at the November pre-stated meeting. Speaker Mark -Viverito joins a growing list of elected officials coming out in support of marijuana legalization, including New York City council members Stephen Levin, Jumaane Williams, Rafael Espinal, and more recently Mark Levine.
When asked about NYC Mayor de Blasio's new marijuana policy to issue court summons instead of arresting people for low-level marijuana possession arrests in New York City, Speaker Mark-Viverito expressed her support but said that the policy does not address key issues that she is concerned about, namely the reasons why young people of color are targeted on the street.
A reporter then asked the Speaker if she supported marijuana legalization, the Speaker replied, "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...States are speaking. 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 Speaker's announcement comes at a pivotal moment for drug policy reform in national politics, as last week's election accelerated the unprecedented momentum for marijuana law reform and other criminal justice reforms. With marijuana legalization measures passing in Oregon, Alaska and Washington, D.C., and with groundbreaking criminal justice reforms passing in California and New Jersey, the election solidified drug policy reform's place as a mainstream political issue. Both in New York and nationally, public opinion has shifted dramatically over the last decade in favor of reforming marijuana laws and dismantling the egregious excesses of the drug war.
Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito has led the charge in the New York City Council since 2012 for sensible marijuana reform. She was the lead sponsor on the successful NYC Council resolution 986-A which called for an end to racially biased, costly, unlawful arrests. The resolution was co-sponsored by a majority of Council members and passed by an overwhelming majority during the June 2012 Stated meeting.
Last winter, New York State Senator Liz Krueger and Assembly member Crystal People Stokes introduced a bill to tax and regulate marijuana for adult use in New York State. The bill would end the criminalization of adults 18 years and older who possess up to two ounces of marijuana and would create a regulatory system allowing for the retail sale of marijuana to those over the age of 21, much like the current system for regulating alcohol. Earlier this year, New York City Council member Stephen Levin introduced the NYC Council resolution 0011 in support of the Krueger/ People Stokes tax and regulate bill with several city council co-sponsors, including, Council members Maria Del Arroyo, Jumaane Williams, Antonio Reynoso, Rosie Mendez, Karen Koslowitz, Daniel Dromm, and Mark Levine.
Statement by Kassandra Frederique, NY policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance:
"Speaker Melissa Mark Viverito's announcement further proves that marijuana legalization is a mainstream issue. This is about putting forth innovative policy solutions that will reduce the role of criminalization in the lives of her constituencies. New York can do this with the guidance of smart, bold, and pragmatic leaders like Speaker Mark Viverito. 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. This is a major step to address the harms in communities of color."
Statement by Alyssa Aguilera, Political Director of VOCAL-NY:
"Speaker Mark-Viverito's public support for marijuana legalization is exactly the type of progressive and bold leadership we need to end the failed war on drugs and reform our broken criminal justice system. She understands that it is unjust and unfair to criminalize mostly black and brown New Yorkers for an action that poses no public safety threat and happens in every corner of the city. I hope other elected officials will follow the Speaker's lead so that we can move forward a vision of drug policy that is rooted in public safety and health, not costly and biased incarceration."