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Hundreds of New Yorkers Still Being Targeted for Marijuana Possession



(NEW YORK, NY) – The Bronx DefendersThe Legal Aid Society, New York County Defender Services, Brooklyn Defender Services, and Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem released caseload data today showing that despite efforts to scale back policing and prosecution of low-level marijuana possession, hundreds of New Yorkers are still needlessly being targeted and put through the system.

According to aggregate caseload data gathered by the aforementioned defender organizations, close to 1,200 New Yorkers in 2019 alone have been arrested and prosecuted for low-level marijuana possession. The disposition of each case is unknown but this continued trend illuminates the flaws of decriminalization and the need for to enact the recently re-introduced and revised Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (S.1527A/A.1617A), known as the MRTA.

Sponsored by Senator Liz Kruger and Assembly Majority Leader Peoples-Stokes, the amended MRTA ends prohibition which has long criminalized Black and Latinx people and other communities of color; clears prior cannabis-related criminal records; addresses additional devastating impacts of marijuana criminalization in the fields of immigration, family law, housing, and employment; and includes a social and economic equity plan which prioritizes licenses for people from communities most affected by criminalization.

Unlawful Possession of Marijuana
January February March April May Total
Brooklyn 6 4 5 4 7 26
Bronx 9 11 10 9 7 46
Manhattan 67 59 67 68 64 325
Staten Island 1 0 5 0 3 9
Queens 25 29 24 21 15 114
Total = 108 103 111 102 96 520
Possession of Marijuana in the 4th Degree
January February March April May Total
Brooklyn 7 10 6 6 6 35
Bronx 12 10 10 14 9 55
Manhattan 2 6 9 12 9 38
Staten Island 0 2 1 0 1 4
Queens 5 1 10 6 1 23
Total = 26 29 36 38 26 155
Possession of Marijuana in the 5th Degree
January February March April May Total
Brooklyn 15 11 15 17 9 67
Bronx 61 52 42 35 28 218
Manhattan 21 13 20 24 16 94
Staten Island 9 12 9 7 13 50
Queens 13 20 14 19 24 90
Total = 119 108 100 102 90 519

“For wealthy white families, marijuana is already de facto legal, but the reality is that marijuana prohibition continues to result in the arrest and prosecution of hundreds of low-income New Yorkers of color every month. These arrests wreak havoc, leading to lost jobs, family separation, and deportation. The only way to end the double standard in enforcement is for lawmakers to pass the MRTA and deliver justice for the Black and Latinx communities that have suffered the devastating and far-reaching consequences of marijuana criminalization,” said Eli Northrup, Associate Special Counsel with the Criminal Defense Practice at the Bronx Defenders.

“Despite decimalization efforts, hundreds of New Yorkers are still being arrested for low-level marijuana possession, which can trigger months and years of ICE detention and deportation, sever access to essential public benefits, and result in the loss of one’s children to foster care,” said Anthony Posada, Supervising Attorney of the Community Justice Unit at The Legal Aid Society. “Decriminalization has failed to prevent this devastation and only continues the damage done to our communities. With the time that we have left in the session,  Albany must enact the revised Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act to legalize marijuana, expunge past convictions, and to invest in the communities that have shouldered the brunt of prohibition.”

“Despite efforts to limit enforcement, marijuana prohibition continues to upend the lives of thousands of New Yorkers each year, as people are still arrested, facing deportation and eviction, and threatened with the loss of their children because of marijuana-related allegations or convictions,” said Jacqueline Caruana, Senior Staff Attorney at Brooklyn Defender Services.“Until marijuana is legalized, the people we represent, who are disproportionately Black and Latinx, and their families will face these devastating consequences. As the end of session approaches, it is imperative that the New York State legislature act now and pass the MRTA to legalize adult use of cannabis, expunge conviction records, and reinvest in communities most harmed by marijuana criminalization.”

“As the numbers bear out, people of color remain vulnerable to prosecution for low-level marijuana offenses,” said Rick Jones, NDS Executive Director. “This ongoing vulnerability compounds decades of harm committed in oppressed communities in the name of the War on Drugs. We must legalize marijuana in a way that reckons with both past and present. That means expunging convictions and ensuring that poor communities of color reap the economic benefits of legalization.”

“Although societal norms have evolved with respect to the decriminalization and prosecution of low-level marijuana possession, our clients continue to be disproportionately arrested for this minor infraction,” said Stan German, executive director of New York County Defender Services. “It is no secret that our clients are primarily indigent people of color. This unfair targeting creates a hardship for them that can lead to disruptions in employment, housing, or even to deportation. It’s time for New York to stop penalizing poverty.”