Criminal justice reform advocates cheer Cuomo’s intent to marijuana legalization

There are still blanks to be filled in, but criminal justice reform advocates on Monday cheered Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s support for legalizing adult use marijuana in 2019, a significant centerpiece for overhauling the state’s drug laws.

In addition to backing a change in how the state views marijuana, Cuomo wants changes to bail and speed up access to a trial.

“For New York to reach its progressive promise, criminal justice, housing, and immigration reform must be central to Albany’s 2019 legislative agenda,” the Legal Aid Society said in a statement.

“This must include an overhaul to bail, speedy trial, and discovery statutes; the passage of parole reform; the legalization of marijuana and the removal of prior marijuana convictions; and the repeal of laws that shield against police transparency and accountability. Equally important, lawmakers must finally repeal vacancy decontrol and the eviction-vacancy bonus, ensure that preferential rent lasts the duration of each tenancy, and close other loopholes that landlords exploit to the detriment of rent-stabilized tenants.”

Cuomo did not spell out what the legalization of marijuana would mean for those with low-level drug offenses and whether they would have their records expunged. At the same time, would a commercialized marijuana product be sold in the state and with what kind of tax? Where would that revenue go?

A blueprint of sorts was handed down by the Department of Health in a report issued earlier this year and more are likely to come when the governor unveils his budget proposal next month.

For criminal justice advocates, however, the issue isn’t about access to drugs, but a de-escalation of the so-called war on drugs.

“As he moves to legalize marijuana in 2019, Governor Cuomo must prioritize racial justice and empower communities of color harmed by the war on drugs,” said Amelia Adams, a spokeswoman for We Rise to Legalize New York should give the first licenses for selling legal marijuana to New Yorkers convicted of nonviolent marijuana-related crimes and to minority and women-owned businesses.”

But even if the details not yet fleshed out, lawmakers who have supported marijuana legalization are pleased with the development, which has been the product of a change in Cuomo’s stance on the issue since 2017 (though before he officially faced a primary from his left in the form of Cynthia Nixon).

“It is encouraging to hear Gov. Cuomo finally embrace the legalization of adult-use cannabis, but we still don’t know enough about his plan to do right by the communities most affected by cannabis prohibition,” said Assemblyman Walter Mosley.

“For decades the war on drugs, perpetrated by local and national administrations, targeted young black and brown men. We must ensure that the criminal records that were unfairly levied are not just sealed, but expunged and that future revenue from legalization be invested in these communities, funding both education and jobs programs. We can not move forward with an adult-use program until we know that these injustices of the past are made right.”

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