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DPA: Fix New York’s Broken Marijuana Policies

Mary Jane Gibson

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New York State senators and policymakers joined the leaders of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) Thursday night to deliver a rousing plea for funding to fight to implement the existing New York medical marijuana law, and support upcoming legislation to tax and regulate marijuana.
The VIP reception, held at ABC Home’s lofty event space in Manhattan, was followed by a program of speakers on New York’s marijuana policies. New York State Assemblyman Richard Gottfried spoke eloquently of the need to push forward with existing medical marijuana legislation, which he sponsored and fought tirelessly to pass. The bill became law in 2014, but it isn’t functioning yet, is very restrictive, and is likely to leave low-income and rural patients without access to medicine. Although medical marijuana is legal in New York, patients and families are still awaiting relief—even though, as Gottfried pointed out, “You’ll walk out of here and pass five or six stores in just a few blocks that sell candy and beef jerky up front, and hydrocodone and morphine in the back. They’re called drugstores.”
State Senator Liz Krueger, a sponsor of the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, assured the crowd that, although the bill may not pass in 2016, “There is no turning back.” The MRTA bill addresses “the failed policy of marijuana prohibition and will work to undo some of its negative results by creating a responsible and well-regulated industry” in New York State. State Senator Daniel Squadron, sponsor of the Fairness and Equity Act, urged donors to give generously to support the passage of the racial-justice bill, which would end racially biased arrests and allow convicted offenders to vacate and seal their records.
DPA’s Kassandra Frederique emceed the evening with good humor, wit and warmth, encouraging the crowd to welcome guests like Shapriece Townsend, who gave an affecting account of his experience as a young black man whose life has been profoundly altered by an arrest for pot possession. DPA Managing Director Gabriel Sayegh presented a short, informative look at marijuana policy reform, and the difference between decriminalization and ending prohibition. He displayed the November 2014 cover of the New York Post that named Mayor De Blasio and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton “Joint Chiefs” when they announced New Yorkers can carry up to 25 grams of marijuana without fear of arrest. Sayegh declared that, although marijuana arrests in New York have been cut in half since last year, there is much more work to be done.
Ethan Nadelmann, founder and executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, spoke passionately of the need to pressure elected officials to support the fight to legalize. He told attendees that, although public support for legalizing marijuana runs almost parallel with the fight for marriage equality, political support is crucially lacking. There are very few politicians willing to side with the reform movement. It’s up to the activists, consumers, civil rights supporters, patients, and friends and families of those who have been victims of the war on drugs to force elected officials to acknowledge that it’s time to listen to public opinion.
The event was co-hosted by High Times, Tilray and Women Grow.

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