If Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s latest proposal on marijuana possession gets passed, it will, in effect, reduce the amount of Black and brown people from having unnecessary criminal records. And, while I’m all for the governor’s proposal, it’s missing a few things.
Under current New York law, marijuana possession has two completely different punishments. The law states that if someone is in possession of marijuana in private, it is considered to be a violation punishable by a fine. But, if that substance is lit or viewable in public, the individual is then subject to an arrest and a criminal record.
Police in New York City often stop young persons of color and ask them to empty out their pockets, essentially forcing individuals to incriminate themselves. As a result, many citizens, civil rights organizations and others have condemned the stop-and-frisk laws that unfairly penalize young persons of color for having small amounts of marijuana in their possession.
In a recent Huffington Post article, the governor admitted to the need to change the law: Cuomo acknowledged the existing approach disproportionately affects minority youths, with 94 percent of arrests in New York City, more than half of those arrested younger than 25 and 82 percent either black or Hispanic.
With the data clearly proving that law enforcement has dropped the ball over the years in effectively carrying out the law, I strongly believe work must now be done to seal or remove the criminal records that young people have unfairly acquired. While these youth, at one point, made a mistake, they don’t deserve to have their lives marginalized due to an inconsistent drug law policy and botched police work.
So, while Gov. Cuomo’s proposal would essentially fine individuals for public possession of marijuana the same way as a private possession, it must go further. The law should also be implemented retroactively, to seal the records of those who were penalized by the system’s flaws. That would be an even greater sign of leadership, practicality and governance on behalf of the State of New York and Gov. Cuomo.