NYC Mayor Backs Bid to Legalize Marijuana

In this Sept. 25, 2018 photo, a worker holds a marijuana plant leaf in a massive tomato greenhouse being renovated to grow pot in Delta, British Columbia, that is operated by Pure Sunfarms, a joint venture between tomato grower Village Farms International, and a licensed medical marijuana producer, Emerald Health Therapeutics. On Oct. 17, 2018, Canada will become the second and largest country with a legal national marijuana marketplace. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

MANHATTAN (CN) – New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio joined the call to legalize marijuana Thursday after Governor Andrew Cuomo announced earlier this week he wants to legalize recreational pot use in the state “once and for all.”

“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.

“I support legalization because we’ve developed a path forward that will help make our city fairer. I look forward to working with the state as to make this a reality.”

The mayor’s remarks coincided with the release of a report by his Task Force on Cannabis Legalization, convened in July. Also in July, the Department of Health released a Cuomo-approved study on the impact of legalization.

The mayor’s report lays out an ambitious list of plans, including regulation of home delivery and equitable licensing for salespeople; establishment of zoning restrictions and encouragement of small and local businesses; enforcement of a 21-and-up age limit; regulation to ensure product safety with regulation; and fair investment and access to capital.

The mayor’s report describes a plan for mitigating health risks of the drug, for example by limiting legal use to those 21 and over, while also dropping criminal penalties for minors in favor of civil enforcement. The report also details health challenges more specific to population-dense New York City, such as fire risk and secondhand smoke, and warns against implementing the new regulations too quickly.

The city report also recommended a “seed-to-sale tracking program” to monitor pot’s distribution chain throughout the state.

During a press conference Thursday, de Blasio warned against a Big Pharma route to legalization, emphasizing the importance of empowering small businesses rather than letting corporations have too much power.

“Tragically, we know what happens when corporations run the show,” the mayor wrote in a letter that opened the task force report, which calls out the lessons from Big Tobacco and Big Oil.

Cuomo’s announcement meanwhile came Monday in Manhattan as he outlined his upcoming budget and agenda goals. It’s expected to move in the state Legislature: Democrats took control of the State Senate in the November 2018 elections, and the Assembly is also majority Democratic.

While smoking or possessing marijuana are illegal in New York, there are exceptions foir medical marijuana. Recreational weed is still prohibited under federal law and has been classified as a “Schedule 1” drug — meaning it has a “high potential for abuse and the potential to create severe psychological and/or physical dependence” — alongside heroin and several other drugs since the 1970 Controlled Substances Act.

Weed possession arrests in New York City have dipped dramatically over the past five years, from over 28,000 in 2013 to about 7,000 in 2018, though court-summons numbers have remained much the same.

An overwhelming racial disparity remains and in fact has increased: in 2013, 86 percent of possession arrestees were black or Latino; in 2018 that number was 89 percent, even though approximately the same numbers of black and white people use the drug, according to a fact sheet distributed by the mayor’s office.

The city report highlights the importance of making sure the new policy is forward-thinking by not forgetting the past. It recommends “an automatic process for expunging criminal records for cannabis-related convictions for conduct no longer criminalized [as the] the surest means to mitigate a legacy of racial disparities and harms of past cannabis enforcement.”

Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez is getting a head start on the process himself by starting to erase of misdemeanor marijuana convictions, on Wednesday asking a judge to expunge 28.

Cuomo’s Democratic primary opponent, Cynthia Nixon, has been widely credited with pushing Cuomo to the left on policy and during her campaign called for marijuana legalization as “a racial justice issue.”

Legalization could also bring in hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue, the governor’s July report found.
The newly re-elected governor received $110,000 in campaign donations from marijuana growers and product sales during the 2018 election cycle, according to VoteSmart.org.

De Blasio’s statements Thursday were received with encouragement from other city politicians, including City Council Speaker Corey Johnson.  

“I have long supported the legalization of recreational marijuana, and I am looking forward to reviewing these recommendations,” City Council speaker Corey Johnson said in a statement.  “Although whites, blacks and Latinos smoke marijuana at roughly the same rates, minorities have been arrested disproportionately for low-level marijuana possession. We have a responsibility to undo these past wrongs.”

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