It’s time to end Pot Prohibition in New York City

BY JOHN C. LIU  |  It’s time to recognize that New York City’s misguided war on marijuana has failed. Instead of spending millions on low-level drug prosecutions that disproportionately affect minorities, why not instead legalize, regulate and tax the city’s $1.65 billion marijuana market?

A comprehensive report released by my office this month, “Regulating and Taxing Marijuana: The Fiscal Impact on NYC,” shows that legalizing, regulating and taxing marijuana could generate more than $400 million annually for the city, money that could be used to cut CUNY tuition in half for New York City residents. Instead of sending kids to the courthouse, let’s send them to college.

Misdemeanor marijuana arrests have skyrocketed under the Giuliani and Bloomberg administrations compared to under previous mayors.

Misdemeanor marijuana arrests have skyrocketed under the Giuliani and Bloomberg administrations compared to under previous mayors.

The social arguments for legalizing marijuana are compelling. Minority communities disproportionately bear the consequences of marijuana arrests in New York City, which are directly related to the New York Police Department’s rampant use of stop and frisk. Combined, blacks and Hispanics make up 45 percent of marijuana users in New York City, but they account for 86 percent of misdemeanor possession arrests. By contrast, whites and Asians constitute 55 percent of users but only 14 percent of arrests.

The costs of a marijuana arrest include police time taking arrestees to the police station, submitting seized marijuana into evidence, fingerprinting and photographing, performing criminal background checks and filling out paperwork. Judicial costs may include the time of prosecutors, public defenders and bailiffs and other administrative work. According to Comptroller John Liu, the total cost savings would be $31 million.

The costs of a marijuana arrest include police time taking arrestees to the police station, submitting seized marijuana into evidence, fingerprinting and photographing, performing criminal background checks and filling out paperwork. Judicial costs may include the time of prosecutors, public defenders and bailiffs and other administrative work. According to Comptroller John Liu, the total cost savings would be $31 million.

That’s just not fair.

An arrest for the possession of even a small amount of pot can have serious consequences. More than half of marijuana possession arrests in New York City are of people age 25 and under — a group for whom the negative effects of an arrest or criminal record is especially acute. Convictions can affect people’s eligibility for federal student loans and ability to live in an apartment with the New York City Housing Authority, and a history of arrest can bar them from many jobs.

According to Comptroller John Liu, taxing legal pot sales in New York City could generate $400 million in annual taxes to be shared by the state, city and Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

According to Comptroller John Liu, taxing legal pot sales in New York City could generate $400 million in annual taxes to be shared by the state, city and Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Low-level marijuana arrests have skyrocketed during Mayor Bloomberg’s administration and are directly related to the N.Y.P.D.’s stop-and-frisk strategy. Since Mayor Bloomberg took office in 2002, there have been almost 460,000 misdemeanor marijuana arrests. The number of these arrests is on track to reach 37,000 in 2013 alone.

Bottom line: The city’s war on marijuana has been misguided and has damaged far too many lives, especially in minority communities. Like Prohibition, it has been a complete failure.

Regulating marijuana would keep thousands of New Yorkers out of the criminal justice system, offer relief to those suffering from a wide range of painful medical conditions, and make our streets safer by sapping the dangerous underground market that targets our children. As if that weren’t enough, it would also boost the city’s bottom line.

Under my proposal, adults age 21 and over could possess up to one ounce of marijuana, which would be grown, processed and sold by government-licensed businesses for recreational or medicinal purposes.

This change won’t happen overnight. We should create an interagency task force to work with the New York State Senate and Assembly in order to pass the legislation needed to implement the plan.

New York needs to legalize marijuana and put an end to modern-day Prohibition.

Liu is the New York City comptroller and a Democratic candidate for mayor

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7 Responses to It’s time to end Pot Prohibition in New York City

  1. Dodge Landesman

    People say his comments are inapplicable as only the legislators could enact such a law, but he brings the conversation to the table. Some eye opening statistics here, like that arrests in the Bloomberg administration have been higher than that in the Giuliani admin or at least equal. Yet the mayor claims support for loosening the laws on marijuana arrests and making them violations. The problem is, in stop and frisk, these kids get sent to central bookings for having a small amount (being now in plain view as the officer forces them to empty their pockets after being frisked. Too bad involuntary plain view is still plain view). If they fail to show up to court as they might be working a job due to low family income (whereas missing one day might result in a crucial day's dock of pay necessary to live), then the victim gets put in central bookings for 24-48 hours as not responding to a violation automatically creates a warrant. These victims then spend even time in jail, missing out on their education, job, and whatever else allows them to live somewhat comfortably and focus dilligently on their careers. Upward mobility is often close to impossible for certain minority communities, and these arrests are the final nail in the coffin. Kudos to Liu for bringing this up. I might have just switched my vote.

  2. aron pieman kay

    free dana beal and all prisoners of weed

  3. I think instead of keeping an eye on the legalization of it (bc most states will undoubtedly adapt to it), start keeping an eye out for new "fat loss" campaigns afterwards for all these folks hitting up 7-11's and camping out at the buffet lines. Just a prediction.

  4. The issue is not good for everybody. Legalizing marijuana can create great negative impact to the community. So before implementing that matter, we need to find ways to prevent crimes in our society.

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  7. The report of Mr. John Liu in this article is an eye-opener. I can only imagine how far the $400 million that would be generated out of regulating and taxing marijuana would go–cutting tuition fees in half, sending many youth to college and many other things that would be beneficial for the majority of the citizens of the city. This is a very compelling report on the legalization of marijuana. Thanks for this great post!

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