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New York City

  • by Allen St. Pierre, NORML Executive Director December 26, 2013

    If there is another human being who has publicly debated more in favor of cannabis law reform, or, spoken to more legal victims of America’s cannabis laws than me, I want to meet and thank them. From these hundreds of debates and thousands of personal encounters with my fellow cannabis consumers busted for ganja, one single phrase that I constantly hear from those who still support cannabis prohibition that instantly pushes my button is: No one gets busted for pot anymore in America…It’s practically legal.

    Thankfully, because of the non-stop work from a cast of thousands of citizen-activists, going back over forty years, the latter is somewhat true for about one-third of America’s population. However the former is a bald face lie that must be confronted every time it is uttered by the proponents of pot prohibition.

    Even in states where cannabis is supposed to be decriminalized, where states have passed laws making cannabis a ‘minor civil offense’, an encounter with law enforcement regarding one’s cannabis possession or use can have expensive, life-altering and devastating negative effects on a person’s life.

    Kudos to BuzzFeed for producing a very well done video profile of a beloved public school teacher in New York City named Alberto Willmore, who, save for this video, would be yet another faceless victim of New York City’s expensive and reckless enforcement of what should be a minor civil offense, like a parking ticket or citation for spitting on the sidewalk. Instead of simply issuing Mr. Willmore a civil fine for possessing a small amount of cannabis, New York City continues to disrespect state laws governing cannabis possession by arresting, detaining, prosecuting and forcing Mr. Willmore to lose his dream job as an art teacher for what law enforcement deem a ‘serious crime’, when the legislature does not–even more so when almost 60% of the US public support legalizing cannabis sales.

    NORML has been advocating for almost twenty years in New York City for the city to return to it’s historic cannabis possession arrest rate of under 1,000 per year, down dramatically from the now nearly 40,000 cannabis possession arrests annually in New York City, which exploded under mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg.

    Next time you hear a law enforcement representative, opinion maker or politician declare that ‘nobody gets busted for pot any more’, remind them of one of America’s nearly 700,000 annual cannabis arrests: Alberto Willmore

    With the recent release by incoming mayor Bill de Blasio’s family of a video from his daughter talking about her use of cannabis, and incoming police commissioner William Bratton’s long experience in effective policing, NORML hopes that 2014 will finally be the year that New York City ceases being the hotbed for cannabis arrests in America and relents on destroying the lives of it’s otherwise productive and appreciated citizens–like Alberto Willmore–who happen to choose to consume cannabis in their home.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director August 29, 2013

    More than 100,000 New York City residents suffering from serious medical conditions such as cancer and chronic pain could benefit from legal access to cannabis therapy, according to a report released today by the New York City Comptroller’s Office. The mission of the Comptroller’s Office is to ensure the financial health of New York City by advising the Mayor, the City Council, and the public of the City’s financial condition.

    The report, entitled “100,000 Reasons: Medical Marijuana in the Big Apple,” finds that some 8 out of 10 New Yorkers endorse permitting patient access to medical cannabis, and estimates that at least 100,000 City residents would immediately benefit from its legalization.

    “[W]e believe this is a conservative estimate,” authors of the report state, “because registration for medical marijuana programs in the various states falls short of the potential. Patients experience social stigma and related social sanctions for using medical marijuana, and many doctors are not familiar with its benefits. Moreover, the federal government has created unnecessary obstacles for academic and research institutions to study marijuana, thereby impeding research that could lead to a broader use of medical marijuana.”

    The report endorses various legal and legislative efforts to amend state and federal marijuana laws. Locally, the report’s authors recommend that New York City establish a ‘Medical Cannabis Research Fund’ to engage in clinical study of the plant; they further proposes the establishment of cannabis grow operations at selected public hospitals. The report also recommends that health insurance providers be required cover some costs related to medical cannabis expenses.

    “In the 1980s, New York State acknowledged marijuana’s medicinal value and supported research for chemotherapy patients,” the report concludes. “Even though the findings were impressive, the State stopped there. Thirty years later, New York still denies seriously ill patients access to this evidence-based treatment, even as 20 states and Washington D.C. have legalized it. … Today, at least 100,000 New York City residents with the same afflictions could benefit from the same relief. By following the recommendations outlined in this report, we can hit the ground running where we left off just 30 years ago and make a meaningful impact for New Yorkers suffering today and for years to come.”

    The Comptroller’s Office had previously issued a report estimating that regulating and taxing marijuana for New York City residents age 21 and over would yield an estimated $431 million in annual savings and revenue.

    New York City Comptroller and Mayoral candidate John Liu has campaigned on the issue of legalizing cannabis for medical and non-medical purposes. Speaking at a press conference today he said, “Marijuana’s medical value is well-established, but it is still routinely denied to patients and researchers. It’s time for that to change, and New York City government can play a role in reshaping our understanding of marijuana’s medical uses. We should leverage our City’s tremendous medical, bioscience, and academic resources to lead the way in medical marijuana research in order to make a meaningful impact on suffering for years to come.”

    Full text of the Comptroller’s report is available here.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director August 15, 2013

    The regulation and taxation of marijuana for New York City residents age 21 and over would yield an estimated $431 million in annual savings and revenue, according to a report released this week by the New York City Comptroller’s Office. The mission of the Comptroller’s Office is to ensure the financial health of New York City by advising the Mayor, the City Council, and the public of the City’s financial condition.

    The report, entitled “Regulating and Taxing Marijuana: The Fiscal Impact on NYC,” estimates that regulating and taxing the commercial production and retail sales of cannabis to adults would yield an estimated $400 million annually. This figure is based on existing estimates regarding cannabis’ present market price and demand in New York City, as well as by calculating the imposition of an excise tax (on commercial production) and sales tax (on retail sales).

    Authors further estimate that $31 million dollars would be saved annually in eliminating citywide misdemeanor marijuana possession arrests [NY State Penal Law 221.10 -- possession of any amount of cannabis in public view], which in recent years have totaled approximately 50,000 arrests per year — largely as a result of law enforcement’s aggressive use of ‘stop-and-frisk’ tactics. Persons arrested are often under age 25 and disproportionately are those of color. Combined, blacks and Hispanics make up 45 percent of marijuana users in New York City, but account for 86 percent of possession arrests, the Comptroller’s report found.

    The Office did not attempt to quantify the broader economic impacts of legalization, including the costs of lost time, work, and other opportunities currently imposed on those arrested. The report’s authors also acknowledged that they did not attempt to quantify the costs of incarceration, which are largely borne by the state, or other secondary fiscal impacts of legalization, such as the positive or negative effects on public health spending.

    Following the release of the study, City Comptroller and Mayoral candidate John Liu spoke out in favor of legalizing the consumption of cannabis by adults, stating: “New York City’s misguided war on marijuana has failed, and its enforcement has damaged far too many lives, especially in minority communities. It’s time for us to implement a responsible alternative. Regulating marijuana would keep thousands of New Yorkers out of the criminal justice system, offer relief to those suffering from a wide range of painful medical conditions, and make our streets safer by sapping the dangerous underground market that targets our children.”

    A summary of the report is available online from the NYC Comptroller’s Office here. The full report is available here.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director March 19, 2013

    New York City police spent an estimated one million hours in staff time making low level marijuana possession arrests between the years 2002 and 2012, according to the findings of a study released today by the Marijuana Arrest Research Project and the Drug Policy Alliance.

    Authors of the study report that City law enforcement personnel engaged in approximately one million hours of police officer time to make 440,000 marijuana possession arrests over the past 11 years. Authors further estimated that those arrested for marijuana possession in New York City have spent five million hours in police custody over the last decade.

    Authors concluded: “[I]t is clear that the marijuana arrests have taken police off the street and away from other crime-fighting activities for a significant amount of time.”

    Under state law, the private possession of up to 25 grams of marijuana is a non-criminal civil citation, punishable by a $100 fine. By contrast, the possession of any amount of cannabis in public view is a criminal misdemeanor [NY State Penal Law 221.10].

    Previously published data reports that over 90 percent of all marijuana arrests in the state of New York occur in New York City. In 2011, New York City law enforcement spent $75 million arresting approximately 50,000 minor marijuana offenders under Penal Law 221.10. Many of these offenders possessed small amounts of marijuana on their person, and only revealed the cannabis publicly after being ordered by police to empty their pockets during ‘stop-and-frisk’ searches. Over 85 percent of those charged were either African American or Latino.

    In his 2013 ‘State of the State’ address, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo lobbied in favor of legislation to equalize the state’s marijuana possession penalties and to reduce the number of low-level possession arrests in New York City. “These arrests stigmatize, they criminalize, they create a permanent record,” he said. “It’s not fair, it’s not right, it must end, and it must end now.”

    Full text of the report, “One million police hours making 440,000 marijuana possession arrests ion New York City, 2002-2012,” appears online here.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director November 23, 2012

    Arresting and prosecuting low level marijuana offenders in New York City has little or no impact on law enforcement efforts to reduce violent crime, according to a study released today by Human Rights Watch, an international advocacy organization that focuses on human rights violations worldwide.

    The study’s authors reviewed data from the New York Department of Criminal Justice Services to track the criminal records of nearly 30,000 people who had no prior convictions when they were arrested for marijuana possession in public view [NY State Penal Law 221.10] in 2003 and 2004. Researchers assessed whether those arrested for minor marijuana violations engaged in additional, more serious criminal activity in the years following their arrest.

    They reported: “[W]e found that 3.1 percent of [marijuana arrestees] were subsequently convicted of one violent felony offense during the six-and-a-half to eight-and-a-half years that our research covers; 0.4 percent had two or more violent felony convictions. That is, 1,022 persons out of the nearly 30,000 we tracked had subsequent violent felony convictions. Ninety percent (26,315) had no subsequent felony convictions of any kind.”

    New York City police arrest more people for possessing small amounts of marijuana in public view than for any other offense, the study found. Between 1996 and 2011, police made more than half-a-million (586,320) arrests for this misdemeanor, including a total of around 100,000 in just the 2 years of 2010 and 2011. Of those arrested, the overwhelming majority are either Black or Latino and under 25 years of age.

    Investigators concluded: “[T]he rate of felony and violent felony conviction among this group of first-time marijuana arrestees appears to be lower than the rate of felony conviction for the national population, taking into account age, gender, and race. … Neither our findings nor those of other researchers indicate the arrests are an efficient or fair means for identifying future dangerous felons.”

    Under New York state law, the private possession of up to 25 grams of marijuana is a non-criminal civil citation, punishable by a $100 fine. By contrast, the possession of any amount of cannabis in public view is a criminal misdemeanor.

    In June, Democrat Gov. Andrew Cuomo urged lawmakers to close the ‘public view’ loophole. That effort was ultimately quashed by, Senate majority leader, Republican Dean Skelos, who argued, “Being able to just walk around with ten joints in each ear, and it only be a violation, I think that’s wrong.”

    In October, Gov. Cuomo reiterated his support for amending the state’s marijuana laws. Speaking a the New York State Trooper Class of 2012 graduation ceremony, Cuomo said that he “would not consider” convening a special legislative session unless lawmakers were willing to consider reforms to reduce New York City’s skyrocketing marijuana arrest rates.

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