Legal marijuana gets new support in NY with backing of Public Advocate

NEW YORK — The campaign to get recreational marijuana legalized in New York got another push Tuesday, as Public Advocate Letitia James along with other elected officials got behind the movement.

James framed it as a critical step that will make the justice system more fair for people of color.

“I look at this through lens of young black and Latino men whose lives have been unfortunately impacted disproportionally as a result of possessing low levels of marijuana,” she said at a press conference outside of New York State Supreme Court in Lower Manhattan.

Blacks and Latinos made up 80 percent of the nearly 23,000 people arrested for marijuana-related crimes in New York in 2016, according to a report from the Drug Policy Alliance. This is despite the fact marijuana use across racial and ethnic groups are roughly the same.

“Based on what I’m seeing on the ground level, there is something wrong in our society,” Councilmember Donovan Richards said, referring to the data. “This is Jim Crow-ism at its best.”

Aside from what marijuana legalization will do criminal justice reform, advocates also point to the economic benefits.

In states like California, one of eight where recreational marijuana is legal, hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue have been raised for school construction and health programs.

With a bill not even drafted yet, officials say they are aiming to do right for those done wrong by the system.

“We must ensure that those in the community most impacted by over-enforcement be given the opportunity to benefit and thrive,” James said. “Not just out-of-state companies and big corporations and that includes business opportunities and employment opportunities.”

Governor Cuomo, who in the past has called marijuana “a gateway drug” – has gradually softened his view on legalizing pot but insists he is focused on collecting the facts before moving forward.

The goal right now for the Public Advocate is to study the issue of legalizing marijuana in addition to the complicated process of expungement which is something she will be doing with Governor Cuomo’s office.

A report on it all, she said, will be released sometime before the end of the year.​