It’s Time To End Pot Prohibition in New York City


BY JOHN C. LIU New York City Comptroller | 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.

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.

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.

Low-level marijuana arrests have skyrocketed during Mayor Bloomberg’s administration and are directly related to the NYPD’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.