Eli Northrup Presented Testimony at City Council on Marijuana Legalization

New York City Council

Committee on Public Safety Jointly with the Committee on Justice System, the Committee on Consumer Affairs and Business Licensing

Hearing re: Marijuana Legalization: Equity and Justice for NYC.

February 27, 2019

Written Testimony of The Bronx Defenders

By Eli Northrup, Associate Special Counsel to the Criminal Defense Practice

As a holistic defense organization we have seen the ways that the disparate enforcement of marijuana laws have hurt our clients–not only in criminal court, but in family court, housing court, civil proceedings, and especially in immigration proceedings. We are encouraged that lawmakers are finally acknowledging what we have known for a long time: that despite similar rates of marijuana usage across racial lines, marijuana enforcement overwhelmingly and disproportionately targets only certain people for arrest–namely Black and Hispanic men.

Let’s just be honest here: Marijuana has effectively been legal for white people in New York City for years. As referenced in the New York State Department of Health’s Regulated Marijuana Impact Assessment, submitted to Governor Cuomo in July of last year, in 2017 alone 86% of people arrested for misdemeanor possession of marijuana were people of color. And 2 white people who were arrested for marijuana offenses were 50% more likely to resolve their case with an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal than black defendants. In large part, the recognition of this racial bias is what finally lead to this legalization effort. But simply changing the law to make it legal to possess and smoke marijuana going forward is not enough. Any reform must be restorative–it must repair the harm caused by decades of racially disparate enforcement.

The truth is that marijuana enforcement is rarely about marijuana. It has always been a vehicle for policing and surveillance and social control of certain communities. If we want to get to heart of problem, we need to address these issues. Our clients have long been targeted by the NYPD for marijuana enforcement based on their race and socioeconomic status. The legalization effort must take this into account and make them whole. Anything short of this is unacceptable.

Finally, we must recognize that the disparate enforcement of marijuana laws is equally problematic in the Family Court system–where mothers of color get charged with child abuse or neglect based solely on even limited marijuana use. We understand that the Council will be taking this issue up on March 4 and we look forward to providing further testimony at that time.

Read the full testimony here