Marijuana legalization pushed by Public Advocate Letitia James

Public Advocate Letitia James said she's in favor of legalizing marijuana in New York on Tuesday.
Public Advocate Letitia James said she’s in favor of legalizing marijuana in New York on Tuesday. Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

As the debate over legalizing recreational marijuana use continues, city and state officials are weighing in on whether they’re in favor of lawfully lighting up.

Public Advocate Letitia James said Tuesday that legalizing recreational marijuana for adults would help achieve critical criminal justice reforms, and the increase in tax revenue could be funneled to education and support programs in communities that have been negatively and disproportionately impacted by its prohibition.

“We can no longer ignore the shortfalls of our current laws on marijuana,” the public advocate said. “Legalizing marijuana will make our justice system fairer and deliver a significant boost to our economy. Under the broken status quo, individuals’ lives, disproportionately young people of color, have been ruined because of outdated and shortsighted marijuana prohibition and it’s past time we right this wrong.”

James cited a Drug Policy Alliance report that showed black and Latino people made up 80 percent of almost 23,000 marijuana arrests in New York in 2016, despite similar rates of consumption across ethnic and racial groups.

New York State currently provides a medical marijuana program for people with certain qualifying illnesses, but there has been renewed discussion over legalizing adult recreational use in recent years as states like Colorado and Washington pave the way.

In the nine states that have legalized recreational marijuana, arrests have dropped by about 94 percent, according to the Drug Policy Alliance report.

State Sen. Liz Krueger, Assemb. Crystal Peoples-Stokes, and City Council members Donovan Richards and Carlina Rivera spoke up in support of the public advocate’s statement Tuesday.

“Legalization, with appropriate regulation and taxation, will end the heavily racialized enforcement that disproportionately impacts African-American and Latino New Yorkers, locking them out of jobs, housing, and education, and feeding the prison pipeline,” Krueger said.

James is just the latest in a string of elected officials who have voiced their opinions on legalizing marijuana in recent weeks.

Democratic candidate for governor Cynthia Nixon announced a platform in favor of legalizing recreational use on April 11, arguing that the state needs to “stop putting people of color in jail for something that white people do with impunity.”

Incumbent Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who helped legalize medical marijuana in 2014, has long opposed recreational legalization.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and first lady Chirlane McCray espoused dueling ideologies about legalizing marijuana earlier in April. While McCray said she supports lawful, regulated recreational use, the mayor said he would like to further study states that have already instituted legal marijuana laws.