With his seriously flawed medical marijuana initiative in motion, Governor Andrew Cuomo finds it no longer politically advantageous to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana or address the "gaping racial disparities" [PDF] in cannabis arrests across his state. "It's not timely in the way it was last year," the governor told reporters yesterday. "It's a nonstarter for me," he added, referring to a recent legalization bill.
Here's what a Cuomo aide told the Times in 2012 when the governor announced that he was supporting a plan to reduce the penalty of 25 grams or less of marijuana in public view to a violation instead of a misdemeanor:
“This proposal will bring long overdue consistency and fairness to New York State’s Penal Law and save thousands of New Yorkers, particularly minority youth, from the unnecessary and life-altering trauma of a criminal arrest and, in some cases, prosecution," an administration official said in an e-mail.
It would also save law enforcement “countless man-hours wasted” on arrests and prosecutions “for what is clearly only a minor offense,” the official added.
New York State is the marijuana arrest capital of America, with more than 103,000 arrests in 2010, the year with the most recent data available. New York City saw 444,000 of the 500,000 marijuana arrests since 2002 [PDF], arrests that cost taxpayers more than $600 million—all while possession of 25 grams of marijuana out of public view has been decriminalized since 1977.
Governor Cuomo's proposal to decriminalize marijuana would have nullified 39,257 of the 40,661 marijuana arrests made in 2012. Roughly 85% of those arrested for the plant are black or Latino. A recent poll showed that 52% of Americans support legalizing marijuana.
The problem isn't confined to the five boroughs.
Blacks are more than eight times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession in Steuben and Cortland Counties. Seven times more likely in Niagara and Onondaga Counties. This exercise is somewhat pointless, because in "virtually every county in the country, police have wasted taxpayer money enforcing marijuana laws in a racially biased manner."
In 2012, ending decades of costly state-sanctioned racism was imperative. In 2014, it is a "nonstarter." Sorry, people of color, Cuomo already has enough liberal merit badges this season. Helping you makes him look weak!
Ken Thompson, the District Attorney of Kings County, where blacks are more than nine times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites, said during his campaign that he would treat the possession of small amounts of marijuana as a violation, not a misdemeanor, "the way the governor is calling for."
Given Cuomo's change of heart, we asked Thompson's office if he is still committed to this pledge, and will update if he responds.