Select Page
Cuomo Criticized for Putting Tax Revenue Above Criminal Justice in New York Cannabis Legalization Plan

Cuomo Criticized for Putting Tax Revenue Above Criminal Justice in New York Cannabis Legalization Plan

New York is on the precipice of completing a deal that would usher legal marijuana into the state. Earlier this week, Governor Cuomo (D) expressed that he and the state Legislators were “very close” to reaching an agreement.

For the third year in a row, the governor has attempted to pass marijuana reform legislation as part of his executive budget. Past efforts at reform from the gubernatorial office have largely been unsuccessful due to disagreements with the more progressive wing of Cuomo’s own party. 

This time, however, negotiations will take place outside of the budget process. 

Cuomo Criticized For Putting Tax Revenue Above Criminal Justice


Cuomo, who is currently facing a growing number of calls to resign amidst an onslaught of sexual harassment allegations, has been criticized in the past by drug policy reform advocates for pushing a legalization plan that prioritizes maximizing state revenue over reinvesting in the minority communities most victimized by marijuana prohibition. 

In response, the governor’s office has released a proposal claiming that some funds from cannabis tax revenue may be used for minority community reinvestment purposes but doesn’t guarantee it. “The devil is in the details,” According to Melissa Moore, the New York state director for the Drug Policy Alliance. Moore says,


“The governor’s proposal has included some of the language from the MRTA about what the community grants reinvestment fund could be used for, but it hasn’t actually had the lockbox guarantee around funds going to communities.”

There have also been concerns that Cuomo’s plan, the Cannabis Regulation and Taxation Act (CRTA), won’t do enough to prevent the future criminalization of cannabis users. Under the CRTA plan, possession of marijuana purchased from an unlicensed source would remain a misdemeanor offense with potential jail time. In contrast, the Marijuana Regulation and Tax Act (MRTA) proposed by state legislators would make possession of illicit cannabis up to two pounds of flower or 4.5 ounces of concentrate a violation only punishable with a fine. 

While the MRTA allows for six marijuana plants to be grown per household, The CRTA prohibits residents of the state from cultivating any cannabis plants inside their own homes, severely limiting access to consumers who don’t want to purchase from state-licensed dispensaries. 

Growing Support For MRTA

NORML, one of the largest cannabis advocacy lobbies in the country, rated both legalization plans at the beginning of this month. The New York NORML Chapter found that “[The] MRTA is far superior to the CRTA,” and gave the legislator’s plan an A- grade while only giving Cuomo’s a C-.

A recent poll conducted by Consensus Strategies found that New Yorkers favor marijuana reform policy that more closely resembles the MRTA. 52% of those surveyed said that they preferred legislation allowing state residents to grow a limited amount of marijuana plants at home, and 51% supported license preferences for social equity applicants. 

In a Twitter statement on Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D) expressed his support for the legalization efforts taking place in the Big Apple. While he didn’t mention Cuomo by name, he did explicitly show his support for the MRTA plan saying,

“We must ensure that tax dollars flow to communities harmed by over-criminalization; small entrepreneurs and directly impacted people have an opportunity to enter the market through strong social equity provisions; marijuana is not used as pretext for criminalizing Black and Brown people, especially youth; and that individuals weighed down by past criminal convictions are given an opportunity to move on as productive members of society.”

Senator Schumer went on to thank supporters of MRTA, specifically calling out legislators Crystal People-Stokes (D) and Liz Krueger (D)—the two legislators responsible for introducing the bill.

Currently, Senator People-Stokes is optimistic that the legislation will advance before April 1st.

Cannabis Legalization As A Vehicle For Criminal Justice Reform

Cannabis Legalization As A Vehicle For Criminal Justice Reform

Historically, the most effective argument for legalizing cannabis is its promising ability to help with a wide range of medical issues. Its medical value has been a pathway for legalization since 1996 when California successfully passed the nation’s first medical cannabis law. The belief in cannabis as medicine has taken hold in public consciousness, with 88% of Americans agreeing that medical use should be federally legal.

But there is another worthwhile reason for legalizing that isn’t cited as often: criminal justice reform. When cannabis legalization laws are well-written, thorough and implemented properly, they can be an excellent method to reduce arrests and incarceration rates.

Racial Disparity

cannabis-legalization-criminal-justice-reform

Police conduct over 20 million traffic stops per year, with blacks and hispanics being stopped most. These stops result in thousands of searches conducted because police claim to smell cannabis.

Police stop more than 20 million drivers a year, leading to thousands of searches citing “marijuana odor” every year. The Open Policing Project at Stanford University, a project started in 2015, has analyzed data from more than 100 million traffic stops.

Effects of Legalization

cannabis-legalization-criminal-justice-reform

According to their analysis, states that legalize cannabis, specifically Colorado and Washington, saw a steep decline in traffic stops that led to searches.

This makes sense. When a state legalizes cannabis, it makes it harder for police to stop people because they smell like cannabis and harder to arrest people for small amounts of cannabis or paraphernalia.

This doesn’t mean that cannabis legalization efforts have addressed the issue perfectly. There is plenty of room for improvement when it comes to ensuring reparations for those affected by the War On Drugs in the past and having legalization reach its potential as a vehicle for criminal justice reform. This also doesn’t mean cannabis legalization will completely fix the issue.

The results from the Open Policing Project are heartening, but show that despite the steep decline in traffic stops and searches, blacks and hispanics are still disproportionately affected by traffic stops and searches in both Colorado and Washington.

In other places, legal cannabis laws lack the legal clarity that would really allow cannabis legalization to achieve its potential as a vehicle for criminal justice reform.

Washington D.C. was the first legalization campaign to run on a platform of criminal justice reform rather than patient rights, according to Seema Sadanandan, the Criminal Justice Director at the ACLU’s D.C. office.

Immediately after legalizing cannabis, possession arrests dropped by 99% in Washington D.C., a truly remarkable piece of data from the Drug Policy Alliance.

cannabis-legalization-criminal-justice-reform

In 2011, 4,256 people were arrested for possession of cannabis, compared to just 32 in 2016. In the same vein, possession with intent to distribute arrests dropped from 1132 in 2010 to 175 in 2016, an 85% decline.

Distribution arrests dropped as well for a time, but are now back up to pre-legalization levels.

How could distribution arrests go back up under a legal system? Poorly written laws, mostly.

In D.C., there are high barriers to getting your medical card and not enough medical dispensaries to satiate demand. Even though cannabis is decriminalized, allowing adults to have up to an ounce or six plants in their home, there is no actual market allowed for recreational pot. It is legal to gift someone cannabis, but not legal to accept anything for it in return.

This is why D.C.’s law has gained the nickname “Dealer Protection Act”. A legal market and competition cannot exist according to the law, but those same laws make it hard for police to arrest dealers if they aren’t caught exchanging money.

Cannabis legalization won’t be the cure all solution for criminal justice issues in the United States, but it can play a huge role when laws are written and implemented correctly.

As states play their role as laboratories of democracy, hopefully we can continue to test and iterate on cannabis laws, creating policies that optimize for patients and criminal justice reform.

 

 

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

[data-image-id='gourmet_bg']
[data-image-id='gourmet_bg']
[data-image-id='gourmet_bg']
[data-image-id='gourmet_bg']
[data-image-id='gourmet_bg']
[data-image-id='gourmet_bg']
[data-image-id='gourmet']
[data-image-id='gourmet']
[data-image-id='gourmet']
[data-image-id='gourmet']
[data-image-id='gourmet']
[data-image-id='gourmet']
[data-image-id='gourmet']
[data-image-id='gourmet']
[data-image-id='gourmet']
[data-image-id='gourmet']