Campaigners see New York’s marijuana bill a victory for criminal justice


  • New York’s bill clears most of the existing marijuana convictions and creates community investment funds.
  • Activists say police have long used marijuana as an excuse to target BIPOC communities.
  • Many told Insider the bill helps advance racial justice, but doesn’t go far enough.
  • Visit the Insider homepage for more stories.

New York’s new marijuana bill puts jobs, student loans and child custody back on the table for countless black and brown residents whose lives have been derailed by low-level marijuana convictions.

As a public defender, Eli Northrup and the organization he works for, the Bronx Defenders, represented thousands of young black and brunette community members facing life-changing marijuana possession charges. Northrup has joined the fight to legalize marijuana in New York City after witnessing countless lives destroyed in minor marijuana convictions while “mothers from the Upper East Side and Park Slope blogged about it. how marijuana made them better parents ”.

“People of all races use marijuana at equal rates, but only people of color are punished,” he told Insider.

But the marijuana regulation and taxation law will change that. The bill creates a regulatory framework for a legal marijuana industry in New York City while attempting to rectify the damage done by the marijuana police to black, brown and low-income communities. All minor marijuana-related convictions will automatically be deleted from the criminal record.

“The great thing about the MRTA is that it allows automatic deregistration,” Anne Oredeko, attorney in charge of the racial justice unit at the Legal Aid Society of New York, told Insider. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the bill on March 31 after years of advocacy work by organizations like the Drug Policy Alliance and Vocal-NY.

Oredeko added that possession of marijuana will no longer be grounds for eviction, denial of public housing or student loans, or separating people from their children. One of the biggest victories, according to Oredeko, is that the bill prohibits police from searching people on the basis of the smell of marijuana.

“We see every day the police use the smell of marijuana as a de facto excuse after the stop and search ban. It has become a stop, a sniff and a whip,” Northrup said. He called the bill a big step in the right direction even though it will not solve all the damage already done.

New York State decriminalized marijuana in 2019, but according to NYPD DataNew York City alone had more than 10,000 people in court again on marijuana-related charges the following year. Of these, only 3.84% were white. Almost 60% (59.2) of the summons were black residents and 33.9% were Hispanic – even though these groups represent only 14.1% and 29.1% of the city’s general population, respectively.

Jawanza Williams, director of the organization at Vocal New York, told Insider that the passage of the bill recognized decades of state violence against black, brown and low-income communities, calling it “an example of the how we should develop legislation “and howto account for the violence of problematic politics in the past. “

“This type of policy making in tandem with communities in tandem with the progressive movement is exactly what we should be doing,” Williams said.

Williams said the New York state bill is designed to avoid gentrification of the newly legal marijuana market and to accommodate the community cost of criminalizing marijuana. A mandate of 50% of commercial marijuana licenses will be reserved for social equity contenders and 40% of tax revenue from legal marijuana sales will go to investment funds for communities most affected by marijuana policing . This investment fund will also include small business loans for marijuana businesses – ensuring that people who made a living selling marijuana when it was illegal can continue to do so under legalization.

Williams is delighted that the bill levies a permanent percentage of tax revenue for affected communities rather than simply including a one-time payment as Cuomo’s previous proposals suggested. “As the marijuana market grows, the amount of money that goes into the security funding pool increases proportionately,” Williams said.

However, the bill does not mean amnesty for everyone. Although convictions are cleared at the state level, this will not result in a federal immigration court. Northrup said those currently facing immigration litigation over marijuana convictions should always seek legal help.

Oredeko also urged state government officials to act swiftly on behalf of those currently serving time for marijuana-related offenses, arguing that “their freedoms are curtailed” even as recreational marijuana use. is no longer “a crime”. The biggest challenge moving forward for everyone, she said, is to ensure that the state truly implements the goals of the law to advance racial equity in the criminal justice system and on the emerging legal market.

For now, defenders are celebrating the victory but warning black and brown communities to remain vigilant. Amid continued calls for reform, Oredeko and Northrup say they are on the lookout for the next law enforcement stop and search effort.

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