Cuomo's Plan To Decriminalize Weed In "Public View" Has Support Of Pretty Much Everyone

As we reported earlier, Governor Andrew Cuomo wants to make possession of marijuana even less illegal than it already is -- a move that apparently has the support of just about everyone.

The governor's office put out a press release this afternoon announcing Cuomo's plan to make possessing weed in "public view" a violation (currently, it's a misdemeanor, despite the fact that "private" marijuana was decriminalized in New York in the 1970s). In the release, the governor included quotes from a laundry list of district attorneys, and other law enforcement officials, who support the the move. The list includes the D.A.s from all five counties in New York City, as well as NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly, who was tagged as a racist by civil liberties groups because of the disproportionate number of minorities arrested for marijuana possession under the city's controversial "Stop and Frisk" policy.

"Today's announcement is about creating fairness and consistency in our laws since there is a blatant inconsistency in the way we deal with small amounts of marijuana possession," Cuomo says. "This is an issue that disproportionately affects young people -- they wind up with a permanent stain on their record for something that would otherwise be a violation. The charge makes it more difficult for them to find a job. Together, we are making New York fairer and safer, and ensuring that every New Yorker has access to justice system that doesn't discriminate based on age or color." 

As we mentioned in prior posts, minorities are jailed at a much higher rate than white people who get busted with weed, which has much to do with illegal searches by police causing people to reveal their weed in public, thus committing a misdemeanor. 

Last month, the Drug Policy Alliance, a weed advocacy group, held a rally at City Hall to draw attention to the racially lopsided number of arrests for marijuana possession. The DPA cites a recent New York Times editorial claiming that of the roughly 50,000 people arrested each year in New York for low-level marijuana offenses, 87 percent are black or Hispanic.

According to the governor's office, 94 percent of all arrests for small amounts of marijuana (less than 25 grams) in New York happen in New York City.

Below is a list of government and law enforcement officials who are in favor of Cuomo's plan.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said, "What Governor Cuomo is proposing, is a logical and, unfortunately, necessary clarification of the law as it exists today. It has become clear that marijuana possession is being used, regrettably, to permanently scar and taint the records of thousands of young citizens, predominantly people of color, who have no record of prior criminal conviction. It is excessive on its face and we need to address the issue thoughtfully and swiftly."

Assemblymember Karim Camara, Chair of the New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus, said, "We commend Governor Cuomo for working to bring fairness to our justice system. This legislation will ensure that possession of a small amount of marijuana, whether public or private, is treated as a violation and not as a misdemeanor. This minor offense has dragged down the future of too many New Yorkers, particularly minority youth, leading to the deterioration of communities across the state. By properly updating the law, the Governor is helping to create a safer and stronger state for all New Yorkers."

Assemblymember Hakeem Jeffries said, "Today, Governor Andrew Cuomo is advancing legislation to standardize penalties associated with marijuana possession, in order to end existing practices, which needlessly scars thousands of lives and waste millions of dollars in law enforcement resources, while detracting from the prosecution of serious crime. For years, thousands of New Yorkers, who are disproportionately Black and Latino youth, have been charged with unnecessary misdemeanors, thereby creating barriers for future employment and intensifying tensions between law enforcement and communities. This legislation will ensure that individuals who possess small amounts of marijuana are sanctioned appropriately while avoiding permanent damage on their records. I thank the Governor for treating all New Yorkers justly under New York State law."

Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said, "The proposed legislation takes a balanced approach and comports with the spirit of the NYPD operations order issued on the subject last year. Further, the department's ongoing quality of life enforcement is supported by preserving the penalties for smoking marijuana in public."

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. said, "Safety and fairness are the twin pillars of our criminal justice system. That is why I support Governor Cuomo's proposed changes to the law governing possession of marijuana. This simple and fair change will help us redirect significant resources to the most violent criminals and serious crime problems, and, frankly, it is the right thing to do."

Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes said, "I fully support Governor Cuomo's change in the marijuana law. This legislation will go a long way toward a more balanced approach to drug related offenses and complement other progressive initiatives already serving our community. It will lead to a more efficient use of law enforcement resources. I applaud Governor Cuomo's leadership on this matter."

Queens County District Attorney Richard A. Brown said, "The proposed legislation strikes the appropriate balance between the needs of law enforcement and the concerns of the community. We join our colleagues in law enforcement in supporting the governor's legislation which will enhance the fair operation of our criminal justice system."

Bronx District Attorney Robert T. Johnson said, "Simply put, there is no need for the "public view" portion of this law. The legislature has already decided that possession of small amounts of marijuana is of minimal concern to our society. Governor Cuomo's proposal would make the law consistent and obviate the need for many arrests which erode the trust between the community and law enforcement."

Staten Island District Attorney Daniel M. Donovan Jr. said, "The Governor was prudent to address some of the concerns that I and other prosecutors had when these changes were first proposed. The law will continue to address the disturbance caused by people who openly smoke marijuana in public, and does not prevent officers from requiring identification from a violator, thus ensuring that someone wanted for a serious crime does not get away with just a ticket. On the other hand, I am hopeful the NYPD will be able to reallocate some of its resources to address more serious crimes, and to continue to keep this city the safest big city in America."

Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice said, "Through this common sense reform of the penal code, which encourages fairness and consistency in the law, Governor Cuomo is enhancing community relationships with law enforcement. As a prosecutor, I know our relationship with the community is the most important tool we have in keeping neighborhoods safe. This reform will enable police officers to continue making our streets safer while focusing on more serious crimes. I applaud his efforts and I look forward to implementing these necessary changes."

New York City Patrolmen's Benevolent Association President Patrick J. Lynch said, "The Governor's call for the changes in police response to contraband discovered pursuant to a properly conducted stop, question and frisk make sense and runs parallel with a recent policy change issued by the Police Commissioner. The NYC PBA is very supportive of clear and precise directions to its members regarding their police responsibilities in specific instances."

Gabriel Sayegh, New York State Director for the Drug Policy Alliance, said, "Overly punitive charges have a harmful effect on our justice system. They can ruin lives, waste taxpayer money on unneeded trials, and breed distrust between communities and law enforcement. Currently, this is the case with public possession of small amounts of marijuana, particularly for communities of color, but with Governor Cuomo's legislation, this injustice can soon be a thing of the past. The Governor should be commended for his leadership and for his continued efforts to make our justice system fairer for all New Yorkers."

Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said, "Communities and law enforcement must work together as partners in order to keep our state safe. However, unreasonably harsh charges for small offenses erode the trust that is necessary for this partnership to succeed. That is why Governor Cuomo's legislation is so important. By making the penalty for public and private possession of minor amounts of marijuana a violation, this legislation will help restore trust between communities and law enforcement. In the end, New York will be a safer state because of this legislation."

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