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NY Senator Wants Cannabis Legalized as Part of Criminal Justice Reform

Natasha Winkler

by Natasha Winkler

June 30, 2020 02:03 pm ET Estimated Read Time: 3 Minutes
NY Senator Wants Cannabis Legalized as Part of Criminal Justice Reform

Civil unrest continues. In the month following the death of George Floyd at the hands (the knee rather) of a Minneapolis police officer, we have seen a sweeping wave of legislation in an attempt to quell the situation. Bills being recently introduced and passed in various jurisdictions include various elements of criminal justice reforms addressing everything from police use of force to legalizing cannabis. In a time when the public is loudly demanding changes from a system that appears to be quite broken, now is the time for local jurisdictions to show their devout representation of their community. Listening to and acting on new legislation in support of ending racial injustice solidifies real representation. Take a look at what’s happening in New York. 

Legislative Package Urged in New York

A recent Press Release from a New York Senator Julia Salazar, explains why legislators should approve the Safer NY Act package right now. She states in order to “help increase police transparency and help increase accountability to New Yorkers’ most common encounters with police”, this package needs to be passed. Largely focused on policing reform, the Safer NY Act is a collection of five bills that have been previously introduced, which also contains legislation to legalize cannabis for adult use.

A Multi-Faceted Approach

The Safer NY Act also includes legislation that will help end harmful and needless arrests for minor violations, non-criminal – ticket-able offenses. Arrests for violations disproportionately impact communities of color, carry significant social & public costs to taxpayers, and can jeopardize employment opportunities, immigration status, and access to health, housing, and other programs for those subjected to these unnecessary arrests. One of those offenses is cannabis possession.

The press release continues, “…legalizing marijuana with strong attention paid to ensuring that resources are reinvested in communities most harmed by prohibition.”

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The Safer NY Act Aims to Address Discriminatory Enforcement

The enforcement of cannabis prohibition has been used to target and criminalize communities of color in New York State. The Act will help address the discriminatory enforcement of cannabis prohibition statutes and hopefully will ensure that there is a reinvestment in the communities most impacted by the war on drugs. In addition to the significantly more intense sentencing for people of color (POC) who have faced a non-violent cannabis crime, they also are at a higher risk for arrest.

The Disproportionate Arrests Are Obvious

In some states, POC are up to six, eight, or almost ten times more likely to be arrested for simple cannabis possession. Cannabis criminalization is one of the tools commonly used to justify and perpetuate racial injustices. Senator Salazar understands that now is the time to pass legislation that supports equal treatment for POC and that includes cannabis legalization.

Legalizing Isn’t Enough but it is a Step in the Right Direction.

By making the law enforcement action commensurate with the offense, this legislation can help reduce financial resources spent on minor infractions and increase resources available for meaningful safety measures for all New Yorkers.

While legalization alone is not enough to level the disproportionate targeting of POC, it is a start in the right direction, especially when coupled with similar legislation. The trend toward legalization and decriminalization hasn’t reduced national trends in disparate enforcement—and in some parts of the country, they have worsened.

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