The New York City Council held on Wednesday the first of three joint hearings on a “Marijuana Justice” legislation package that members of the Councils Progressive Caucus introduced two weeks ago.

Brooklyn Councilmembers Laurie Cumbo, Jumaane Williams, Rafael Espinal, Antonio Reynoso, Robert Cornegy and Alicka Ampry-Samuel, among others, sponsored a package of 11 bills and resolutions addressing justice and social equity issues that, as they say, must be taken into consideration with regards to the legalization of marijuana.

The prohibition of marijuana has subjected low-income communities of color to targeted and disproportionate policing and enforcement, the effects of which have been devastating for individuals and entire communities, said Reynoso.

The lawmakers are calling for the legalization of marijuana at the state and federal levels, the expungement of all misdemeanor marijuana offenses and the reinvestment of revenues from marijuana in communities most impacted by the war on drugs.

“The money from legalizing marijuana must be invested in communities that have been disproportionately targeted by marijuana enforcement,” said Espinal. “These are the black and brown communities like the one I grew up in and represent who have for so long been targeted, arrested, criminalized and harmed because of minor drug infractions.”

And the legalization could mean big business for New York. NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer estimates the potential market for marijuana in New York State at roughly $3.1 billion, including approximately $1.1 billion in New York City, according to a report he released last May.

Not only is marijuana an untapped revenue source for the city and the state, but the prosecution of marijuana-related crimes has had a devastating and disproportionate impact on Black and Hispanic communities for far too long, stated Stringer. Legalizing marijuana and reclassifying past convictions would be critical steps towards turning the page on decades of failed policies.

During the hearing, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. testified that he supports marijuana legalization and committed his office to record expungement. Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, who was not present, already stopped prosecuting low-level marijuana offenses last year and has begun vacating past offenses.

The lawmakers introduced a package of 11 bills and resolutions focusing on justice and social equity issues related to the legalization of Marijuana
Councilmember/ Public Advocate-Elect Jumaane Williams.Photo credit: Eric McGregor/ NYC City Council Progressive Caucaus

The package also includes two proposed laws that would ban the Department of Probation from conducting drug tests for marijuana and would ban employers from requiring employees to submit to tests for THC as a condition of employment, the latter was co-sponsored by Cumbo and Williams. 

We need to be creating more access points for employment, not less. And as we move toward legalization, it makes absolutely no sense that were keeping people from finding jobs or advancing their careers because of marijuana use, said Williams. Ive long advocated for legalization and the expunging of records, and this measure is in line with those goals. This legislation is good for both employers and prospective employees — it expands the pool of applicants by preventing people from being shut out for no reason.”

The Department of Probation and the Commission on Human Rights expressed support for the proposed bans.

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