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An Open Letter to NYC Mayor Bloomberg: Be a Leader on Medical Marijuana

How does Mayor Bloomberg reconcile his administration’s marijuana policies with your quote in support of the Marriage Equality Act.

Dear Mayor Bloomberg:

In June, New York State took a historic step towards one of the most cherished goals of America's founders, “a more perfect Union,” when the State Senate passed the Marriage Equality Act to legalize same-sex marriage, which Gov. Cuomo quickly signed into law. Two days later, I marched in the Heritage of Pride parade with a group advocating for New York City’s marijuana policies to be based on justice, science and compassion–another idea cherished by people who want to peacefully and freely express their preferences for what they want to put into their bodies, just as same–sex partners want to legally be able to share their lives with whom they choose.

We received an enthusiastic response from the crowd, many of whom are, have loved ones who are and/or are caregivers for people with HIV/AIDS, nausea, cancer and other serious medical conditions-all of which marijuana has been found safe and effective in treating. Unfortunately, last summer, you claimed that A. 9016, a bill that would have legalized the medical use of marijuana for patients certified to have a serious condition by a medical practitioner, “means everybody’s going to qualify” and “has nothing to do with medicine.”

And since your mayoralty began in 2002, you have marshaled law enforcement resources and presided over New York City’s transition into the “marijuana arrest capital of the world,” with arrests for simple possession of marijuana increasing from 41,000 in 2001 to over 50,000 arrests last year. Marijuana arrests are rising at an even greater rate this year. Despite that increase in the volume of arrests, New York City has taken an incongruous, but correspondingly widespread approach of having these low level marijuana arrests effectively dismissed at arraignment by means of an Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal. As detailed in the New York Civil Liberties Union’s report, “Marijuana Arrest Crusade: Racial Bias and Police Policy 1997-2007, these arrests have been focused on young men of color, who suffer from collateral consequences of these arrests such as loss of financial aid and discrimination in housing and employment–all at a cost to New York City taxpayers of about $75-100 million per year.

How do you reconcile your administration’s marijuana policies with your quote in support of the Marriage Equality Act: “[g]overnment should not tell you what to do unless there’s a compelling public purpose”? Where is the “compelling public purpose” in arresting poor young marijuana users of color and denying sick people their right to use safe, effective and natural medicine? One of the more interesting features of your administration has been the “bullpen” set up at City Hall, where you are the vortex of New York City government, surrounded by your top aides, rather than isolated in a corner office. Above the bullpen is a clock counting down your remaining time in office. As of September 1, 2011, you have 853 days in which you could take three simple but effective steps to turn around your administration’s marijuana policy. Here’s how:

  1. Tell Commissioner Ray Kelly to have the NYPD stick to writing summonses for unlawful possession of marijuana under New York Penal Law 221.05 (a violation, not a crime, which is punishable by a $100 fine) rather than making arrests for criminal possession of marijuana in the fifth degree under Penal Law 221.10. This was the intent of the New York State Legislature when it passed the Marijuana Reform Act of 1977. That law was inspired by “Marijuana: Interim Report of the Temporary State Commission to Evaluate the Drug Laws,” a 1971 study of New York’s marijuana and other drug laws, which stated: “[b]y reducing the offense to a violation it is our intention not only to lower the maximum penalty for minimal possession … but to remove the stigma attached to a person because of his [arrest and] conviction for a ‘crime.’”

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