Posted on January 12, 2018
Will New York Finally Consider Legalizing Cannabis This Week?
— Janet Burns (@warmlyburns) January 11, 2018
This week, Vermont and New Hampshire moved to legalize cannabis for adult use, signifying a major step in states’ acceptance of the plant along the East Coast, and in their opposition to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ tenacious stance. In New York, where legislators have largely left drug laws unchanged since the ’70s, and where marijuana arrest rates continue to lead the nation —New York was estimated to have spent over $1 billion on enforcement between 2002 and 2012, and $675 million in 2010 alone— a panel of lawmakers will now hear testimony from some of the state’s most experienced advocates for reform. On Thursday morning, the New York State Assembly Standing Committees on Codes, Health, and Alcohol and Drug Abuse will convene a public hearing to discuss the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA), aimed to legalize the use, distribution, and production of cannabis for adults aged 21 and over. As part of their research on the bill, which was floated to little effect in previous assembly sessions, the legislative panel will hear testimony from a range of medical, legal, and policy experts in the state who are calling for an end to the ban. According to the Drug Policy Alliance, a national nonprofit focusing on drug reform advocacy and education, and which helped to build and promote the bill, MRTA would create a system to tax and regulate marijuana in a similar way to alcohol, and “effectively end marijuana prohibition in New York State.” Today’s testimony comes from representatives of such legal, immigrant, and human rights groups as LatinoJustice, the National Action Network, Brooklyn Defender Services, the Legal Aid Society, VOCAL-NY, and the Partnership for the Public Good, as well as numerous medical professionals and researchers. Kassandra Frederique, New York State Director for the DPA, said her testimony today will address the massive scope of marijuana prohibition in New York to date, which has forced thousands of mostly Black and Latino residents to lose access to work and social benefits, accept strict plea bargains, and get stuck on Riker’s Island in lieu of costly bail, among other things. In addition to the cost of enforcing prohibition and the benefits and relative safety of marijuana, there is an emphasis on the enormous impacts that New York drug laws have had on immigrants, communities of color, young people, and state residents as a whole.