Albany, NY: Democrat Gov. Andrew Cuomo restated his support this week in favor of legislation to equalize the state’s marijuana possession penalties.
Speaking Tuesday at 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. Assembly and Senate lawmakers have requested a special legislative session be held following the Presidential election so that they can vote on a pay raise.
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].
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 had marijuana on their person, and only revealed the cannabis publicly after being ordered by police to empty their pockets during ‘stop-and-frisk‘ searches. According to the Governor’s office, 94 percent of arrests for small amounts of marijuana in the state are in New York City. Over 85 percent of those charged were either African American or Latino.
Governor Cuomo publicly criticized the law in June and endorsed legislation to close the ‘public view’ loophole. However, that reform was opposed by Senate majority leader, Republican Dean Skelos, who said, "Being able to just walk around with ten joints in each ear, and it only be a violation, I think that’s wrong."
New York City Council Member for Council District 8, Melissa Mark-Viverito, praised Gov. Cuomo’s stance. "I commend New York Governor Cuomo for urging the State Legislature to adopt what he calls ‘The People’s Agenda,’ which includes an end to unjust small-quantity marijuana arrests, before they consider a potential salary hike for legislators," she said in a press release. "I strongly support this principled act of leadership in the face of a hostile Republican State Senate which in the last session blocked legislation to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana in public view. This inaction has led to thousands more unjust stop-and-frisk arrests of young men of color when they are told to empty their pockets during stops. … The new law would make marijuana possession merely a violation, like a traffic ticket, and not a crime that the police can arrest people for committing. Sincethere are currently over 50,000annual stop-and-frisk arrests for small-time marijuana possession in NYC, this will dramatically reduce the unjust criminalization of our youth."
For more information, please contact Allen St. Pierre, NORML Executive Director, at (202) 483-5500 or Erik Altieri, NORML Communications Director, at: email@example.com.