With Gov. Andrew Cuomo advocating for legalizing marijuana as part of his 100-day agenda in 2019, it seems only a matter of time before New York follows in the footsteps of California, Massachusetts, and Washington state.
And now, just days after Cuomo signaled his support for legal weed, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration has released a report that outlines how that could safely be accomplished in New York City, while also acknowledging and working to end the long history of unfair targeting of people of color for marijuana-related offenses.
“I have been convinced that we can establish a regulatory framework that keeps our streets safe, rights the wrongs of the past, and gives economic opportunity to communities hit hardest by the war on drugs,” de Blasio said in a statement. As recently as this spring, de Blasio had stated he was “not there yet” in regards to marijuana legalization.
What changed? The inevitability of it happening, whether de Blasio liked it or not. In January, Cuomo commissioned a study looking at how legal weed might affect New York state, and after the 2018 primary election—during which his challenger, Cynthia Nixon, called for legalization—he moved even further on the issue.
So what could legalization look like in New York City? The report issued by the de Blasio administration, which was created by a task force made up of officials from various city agencies, offers a handful of recommendations that are “centered on local development, equity, public health and a wholesale departure from the failed war on drugs,” according to a release from the Mayor’s office.
Among the most significant are recommendations for address the historically unfair targeting of minorities when it comes to marijuana-related offenses. According to a fact sheet that accompanied the report, in the first six months of 2018, 72 percent of summonses for marijuana-related offenses were issued to black or Latinx New Yorkers. But surveys have found that marijuana usage is about the same across all races.
“Although whites, blacks and Latinos smoke marijuana at roughly the same rates, minorities have been arrested disproportionally for low-level marijuana possession. We have a responsibility to undo these past wrongs,” City Council speaker Corey Johnson said in a statement. “As New York looks to move forward with decriminalizing marijuana, we must ensure that part of the conversation includes expunging convictions of people with low-level possession offenses.”
To address this, the report recommends expunging the criminal records of those who were convicted of marijuana-related crimes, if that behavior is then legalized; changing the rules so that underage people who are caught using marijuana are subject to civil, not criminal, charges; and investing revenue from marijuana sales into communities hit hard by past unjust enforcement.
Other recommendations include making 21 years old the legal age for cannabis consumption; giving local governments a fair amount of control over how legal weed is rolled out in their municipalities (including any changes to zoning and other land use issues that may arise); prohibiting public consumption while establishing legal venues for people to smoke and buy pot; using tax revenues to fund campaigns that address the health effects of marijuana usage; and more.
“Our mission is clear: We want New York to be the fairest big city in America,” de Blasio wrote in the intro to the report. “If we get legalization right, marijuana can be an important new part of the solution.”