Marijuana arrests in New York cities highlight a racial and socioeconomic divide in enforcement, a report released this week by the Drug Policy Alliance found.
The report comes as state lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo are on the verge of a potential agreement for legalizing adult-use cannabis in New York, allowing for the sale of cannabis products and for New Yorkers to grow limited numbers of marijuana plants at home.
The analysis released by the group, which has advocated for the measure's passage in the last several years, reviewed how regional differences and people of color in New York City, New Rochelle, Syracuse and Buffalo are overrepresented in marijuana arrests.
Areas with the highest marijuana arrest rates have also found to have higher percentages of people of color.
“The enforcement of marijuana prohibition has devastated communities across New York State, primarily communities of color and low-income communities. There have been more than 800,000 arrests for low-level marijuana just in the last 25 years alone in New York, with extreme racial disparities – despite data showing similar rates of use and sale across racial and ethnic populations,” said Melissa Moore, the state director of the Drug Policy Alliance.
“In light of this new report, New York has the opportunity to pass the most ambitious marijuana legalization bill in the country, setting the national model for marijuana legalization by centering reinvestment, equity, and justice within our comprehensive reform. Let’s get this done right.”
State lawmakers this weekk said they were close to an agreement on the bill, wihch has stalled in the Legislature over the last three years in Albany.
One of the final hurdles, lawmakers said, was a sticking point over traffic safety and how to determine intoxication of someone who has recently ingested cannabis.
The measure has previously run into this issue before with state lawmakers. In 2019, lawmakers opted to approved a measure meant to decriminalize marijuana possession after the broader legalization bill was not approved.
Lawmakers want to approve the measure outside of the state budget, which is due to pass at the end of month.