Queens Pols Call For Marijuana Legalization

BY SAM RAPPAPORT

“The simple truth is: for white people, the use of marijuana has effectively been legal for a long time. Isn’t it time we legalize it for everyone else?” Gubernatorial candidate and actress Cynthia Nixon posed this question to her Twitter followers on Wednesday in a video in which she expressed support for the legalization of recreational marijuana in New York State.

Councilman Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton), while not endorsing Nixon, agreed that a move toward legalization would be a step toward a more just society.

“We would definitely be in support of moving in the direction of legalization,” a spokesman for Richards said. “It would be an answer to the current inequitable approach.”

In February, Richards, along with Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest), pressed the city’s Police Department in a City Council hearing on why most of the city’s low-level marijuana arrests were still taking place in minority communities, despite the fact that marijuana use is roughly the same across racial groups.

NYPD leaders told the council that law enforcement was simply responding to those areas that called in the most complaints regarding marijuana. However, after the NYPD released its data on 911 and 311 calls dealing with marijuana—Richards and Lancman remained unsatisfied.

In a joint statement from March, Richards and Lancman used the 911 and 311 call data to point out inconsistencies in the NYPD’s rationale for its practices of marijuana enforcement.

The council members pointed to the fact that, in 2017, the 105th Precinct—a Southeast Queens precinct—had more than 2,500 low-level marijuana arrests and summonses, which was more than any other precinct in the city, despite police only receiving 253 calls from the community related to marijuana. The council members noted that the 90th Precinct, a majority white area that consists mostly of Williamsburg, received 451 community calls, but only logged 300 arrests and summonses for marijuana.

“The NYPD polices communities of color more aggressively than white communities,” Lancman said.

Similar to Richards, Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Fresh Meadows) said he believes that legalizing recreational marijuana use would help correct law enforcement practices that unfairly target minority neighborhoods. Weprin also said that many of his colleagues are on the same page.

“We are getting closer each year to legalizing marijuana,” Weprin said. “We do feel, in our house especially, that there is selective enforcement of these laws in black and Latino communities as opposed to white communities.”

Weprin, along with Assemblywoman Alicia Hyndman (D-Springfield Gardens) and Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi (D-Forest Hills), is a co-sponsor of Assembly Bill A3506B, which, if passed, would legalize recreational marijuana use and set guidelines for the state’s regulation of it. The state Senate has its own version of the bill, but neither the Senate nor Assembly have moved the legislation out of committee review and onto the floor.

“It’s going to come down to the governor,” Weprin said. “If he publicly changes his position, it could definitely happen—and I think some of the governor’s people are in favor of it. We’re closer now than we’ve ever been.”

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