Today, Senator Liz Krueger and Assemblyperson Crystal Peoples-Stokes sponsored a public forum about the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, a bill that would tax and regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol. Under the proposal, those over 21 would be able to purchase small amounts of marijuana from a state-regulated store. The bill would rectify the many problems associated with marijuana prohibition, including the arrests of tens of thousands of primarily young people of color.
"There is no question that New York's marijuana policies are broken," said Kassandra Frederique, Policy Manager at the Drug Policy Alliance. "Each year, tens of thousands of New Yorkers are swept into the maze of the criminal justice system for nothing more than possessing small amounts of marijuana. Enforcement of these policies is focused almost entirely focused on young people, primarily young people of color, such that our laws are now applied differently to different people based on the color of their skin and their income level - this must stop."
The hearing comes amidst a wave of marijuana policy reform nationally. Four states and the District of Columbia have voted to legalize marijuana for adult use. At the federal level, Congress has just passed and President Obama yesterday signed the omnibus bill that contained an amendment that prohibits the Department of Justice from using funds to interfere with states that have passed medical marijuana laws. Closer to home, marijuana arrests have been the subject of much debate, particularly in New York City where Mayor de Blasio recently proposed giving people a summons instead of arresting people for possessing marijuana in public view. The proposal, while well intentioned, only underscores the need for statewide legislation that will fix problems with New York's marijuana possession law and address the legacy of injustice associated with these broken policies.
Just yesterday, the federal government's National Institute on Drug Abuse released its annual Monitoring the Future survey showing that rates of marijuana use have declined among teens nationally. Monitoring the Future is now in its 40th year and is considered the 'gold standard' of teen drug use surveys. These declines in marijuana use among teens follow the implementation of the nation's first marijuana legalization laws in Colorado and Washington. Those laws were adopted in 2012, and retail sales of marijuana in those states began earlier this year. Each of the marijuana legalization laws clearly specifies that legalization applies to adults 21 and over and contains built-in safeguards that restrict sales to minors.
Increasingly, jurisdictions across the country are realizing that prohibition is the absence of control and are working to implement regulatory systems that are fair and effective.
"New York made small progress earlier this year when it passed a medical marijuana bill, though that bill was narrowed considerably before passage and patients continue to suffer without access to the medicine they need," said gabriel sayegh, Managing Director of Policy & Campaigns at the Drug Policy Alliance. "The legislature in Albany is now considering the Fairness and Equity Act, which seeks to address the problem of marijuana arrests in New York. They should pass that bill immediately. But for all the strengths decriminalization, it leaves prohibition intact. New Yorkers have suffered long enough under this failed system of prohibition. New York needs to catch up with other states and tax and regulate marijuana."