New York City’s Persistent Cannabis Dystopia

Despite its liberal reputation and recently surging support for legal weed, New York City’s persistent cannabis dystopia is still a reality for many.
New York City's Persistent Cannabis Dystopia

New York City, despite its liberal reputation, has long been the marijuana arrest capital of the USA. So, many herbal advocates were heartened by the recent poll (carried out by Emerson College on behalf of the Marijuana Policy Project and  Drug Policy Alliance) finding that 62 percent of New York’s registered voters support legalizing and taxing cannabis to help close the state’s budget gap, with only 28 percent opposed. But some activists are quick to remind us that even as the public comes around on the question, all too little has changed on the city’s streets.

Robert Gangi, who lost a long-shot primary bid to unseat Mayor Bill de Blasio in September, has been pushing hard on what he calls the “blatantly racist practices” of the New York Police Department—especially where pot busts are concerned.

Citing state data, Gangi told the Daily News that city police made more than 13,500 misdemeanor pot possession arrests in the first nine months of 2017, down slightly from the nearly 14,000 in the same time period in 2016.

Almost 86 percent of those arrests involved blacks or Latinos, while white people amounted to only about nine percent.

“We’re gonna continue to raise this issue,” Gangi pledged.

Gangi’s Police Reform Organizing Project (PROP) wrote: “While Mayor de Blasio has made widely publicized pronouncements about ending punitive sanctions for marijuana infractions, the data presented by his own police department belie those claims & tell a very a different story. Arrests for marijuana remain in the thousands every year & are the 4th most common NYPD arrest.”

And the dramatic racial disparity in who gets popped continues, despite the fact that “research and experience demonstrate that white people use and sell marijuana in proportions and numbers equal to or greater than African-Americans & Latinos.”

Melissa Moore, New York state deputy director at the Drug Policy Alliance, wrote in a Daily News op-ed: “New Yorkers are tired of the ongoing marijuana arrest crusade, which has led to more than 800,000 people being arrested for possession of small amounts of marijuana in New York State over the past 20 years, with over 700,000 arrests by the NYPD alone. On average, 60 New Yorkers are arrested every day for marijuana possession, making marijuana possession one of the top arrests in the state.”

Moore also emphasized the racial disparity. She issued a call for Gotham residents to seize the moment and act.

“New York doesn’t need to remain mired in this damaging cycle,” she wrote. “We have an opportunity to support racial and economic justice by shifting away from costly, racially biased, and unjust enforcement of marijuana laws and across the state and instead create a new, well-regulated, and inclusive marijuana industry in New York.”

Moore’s new project is Start SMART NY—Sensible Marijuana Access through Regulated Trade. Its online petition is plugging the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA), now pending the New York’s state legislature.

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