Protests around the world continue to fight for racial equality. Lawmakers are scrambling to give the public answers, leaving the door open to many ideas. One such is to legalize marijuana as part of a package deal known as the Safer NY Act. By doing so, people of color will be less targeted by police, and the money will be reinvested in the communities.
Cannabis and Racism
The Safer NY Act is a five-part criminal justice package that tackles police reform. Each of the bills within has been previously introduced, but all fell flat. This time, lawmakers conjoined all into one mega package that aims to “help increase police transparency and help increase accountability to New Yorkers’ most common encounters with police,” according to Senator Julia Salazar (D).
So, how could cannabis legalization fit into a criminal justice package? Many believe cannabis criminalization allows police to target people of color. From the moment police interact with a person of color, and cannabis becomes involved, the suspect is guilty.
“Because of the criminalization of the use of marijuana, more black and brown New Yorkers have interactions with police than they need to,” said Salazar. “More people end up in the criminal justice system in the first place than is necessary at all.”
In fact, according to The New York Times, black people are eight times more likely to be arrested for cannabis charges than white people in New York. Targeting is only the first problem for these people. Once an officer singles out the individual, it becomes nearly impossible for them to get off easily. On the other hand, white offenders tend to get away with a lot more, especially with cannabis involved.
Finally, if any foul play occurs while under custody, officers can easily point the finger to cannabis for being the reason for defiance. Many reports on African-Americans falsely accuse them of having cannabis on them or in their system as well.
Invest in the Communities
It’s clear there is racism within the criminal justice system, and it’s vastly affecting people of color. The police system is only the first step to fixing this problem. The next step is to fix what this racism has caused. This cannabis legalization is a two-part series. The first being to legalize the drug to avoid racist targeting. Next, lawmakers want to reinvest in these communities with the money collected from cannabis tax revenue. This is known as the End Marijuana Prohibition and Invest in Communities – Marijuana Taxation and Regulation Act (MRTA).
“The MRTA will help address the discriminatory enforcement of marijuana prohibition statutes and will ensure that there is reinvestment in the communities most impacted by the war on drugs,” Salazar explained in a public statement.
With the collected tax revenue, the state can reinvest in these communities in many ways. The overall goal is to make the community a safer and well-resourced area. These resources are what people of color need right now.
Governor Andrew Cuomo has long said he believes New York will legalize cannabis. The only problem is there is no clear timeline for this to happen. Last year, however, New York reduced the penalties of minor cannabis crimes. This was the first step to expanding decriminalization, but clearly not enough.
The other four bills included in this package are in regards to ending police secrecy, creating demographic reports & statistics, keeping authorities accountable for any deaths that occur in custody, and reducing unnecessary arrests.