Press Release

As Trump-Era Drug Policies Continue To Target Communities Of Color For Low-Level Marijuana Possession, Senator Gillibrand Demands Attorney General Jeff Sessions Meet With New Yorkers Whose Lives Have Been Upended By Failed War On Drugs, End DOJ Directive That Disproportionately Hurts Black And Latino New Yorkers

Apr 22, 2018

New York, NY U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today stood with State Senator Liz Krueger, advocates, and community leaders to demand that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions meet with New Yorkers whose lives have been upended by the failed war on drugs. Gillibrand called on Sessions to reverse the Department of Justice (DOJ) directive currently in place that empowers the prosecution of low-level, non-violent marijuana possession offenses, which disproportionately hurt communities of color in New York and across the country. During his time as Attorney General, Sessions has revived failed policies from the War on Drugs that have been responsible for decades of injustice.

Gillibrand, who announced in February that she supports legalizing marijuana and expunging convictions related to possession, has met with families in New York to hear firsthand just how much the failed war on drugs has affected communities of color and low-income communities. According to Politico, Black and Latino New Yorkers are nearly 10 times more likely to face marijuana arrests than white New Yorkers.

“Our justice system is failing to protect far too many men and women of color, and the reality is that my 14-year-old son would likely be treated very differently from one of his Black or Latino peers if he was caught with marijuana,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Attorney General Sessions needs to hear directly from New Yorkers who have suffered because of the failed war on drugs, and he should end the Justice Department directives that encourage law enforcement to waste their resources going after people for low-level, non-violent marijuana possession, because that’s not making our neighborhoods any safer. It’s time for the United States to legalize the possession of marijuana, and I urge all New Yorkers to raise their voices and join me in this fight to fix our justice system.”

“For too long, marijuana prohibition has had a destructive effect on families across our state. Heavily racialized enforcement has meant that African American and Latino communities have borne the brunt of this misguided policy, with young people locked up and locked out of jobs, housing, and education. It’s time to end prohibition, and embrace the kind of smart, responsible, fact-based drug policies that our communities need,” said State Senator Liz Krueger.

“I’m proud to have Sen. Gillibrand on our side advocating for ending failed drug policies. I believe coordinated state & federal action seeking equity in social justice, reversing decades of disproportionate police enforcement against minorities and providing economic support and opportunity within the budding marijuana industry is the right course of action,” stated Assemblywoman Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes, Assembly sponsor of New York State’s Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (A.3506).

“The time to legalize marijuana in New York State is long overdue,” said Anthony Posada, Supervising Attorney of the Community Justice Unit at The Legal Aid Society. “Decriminalization has served as a half measure at best. Our clients – many from communities of color – are still profiled by the police and arrested at disproportionate rates for low level marijuana possession. The consequences are destructive, and it’s still for full repeal. That is why marijuana legalization must be centered around racial justice and repairing past harms. The Legal Aid Society lauds Senator Kirsten Gillibrand for elevating this issue and supporting this important call for justice.”

“Marijuana prohibition has been incredibly harmful for New York’s communities. It has cost hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers their access to employment, housing, and educational opportunities. Prohibition enforcement has also resulted in the systematic separation of families and the removal of individuals from this country. As New York works to legalize marijuana, it is imperative that we center the people and communities who have been most impacted by prohibition. We must put advance policies that repair the harms that have been caused and invest in communities that have been impacted as we intentionally build a diverse and inclusive industry,” said Chris Alexander, New York Policy Coordinator for the Drug Policy Alliance.

“Every year, thousands of people – overwhelmingly Black and Latino – are arrested on the streets of New York City for possessing small amounts of marijuana, something that is now legal in nine states,” said Justine Olderman, Executive Director of The Bronx Defenders. “People face deportation, housing instability, lost jobs, unjust fines, and diminished educational opportunities because of these arrests. Together, these consequences act as a unjust hidden tax on low-income communities of color. We applaud Senator Gillibrand for highlighting these harms and for her commitment to addressing the failed war on drugs.”

“We are calling on our elected officials to act swiftly on the decriminalization of Marijuana and the racial bias impact that it has on our communities and its effect on financial aid, access to affordable housing and citizenship. There is no reason in 2018 that our community continues to be targeted and broken by Drug War era policy that has been shown to disproportionately target communities of color. And we insist that Marijuana be removed from the Title 1 schedule of dangerous drugs,” said Juan Cartagena, President and General Counsel at LatinoJustice PRLDEF.

Joyce McMillan, Director of Programming and Parent Advocate at Child Welfare Organizing Project said, “CWOP is in support of any legislation that will help to create racial equity in NY. Marijuana arrest, Incarceration and child welfare all disproportionately affect people and communities of color. Legalizing marijuana would support decreasing the burden of billions of dollars in cost to taxpayers, reduce incarceration and make supportive resources that promote family unity available to families. Legalization is a responsible and smart choice.”

“In this era of mass deportation, immigrants who encounter police or who have prior convictions, even for one marijuana offense, are increasingly at risk of deportation. Marijuana legalization is a critical step in safeguarding all our communities from discriminatory policing and harmful drug policies,” said Alisa Wellek, Executive Director of the Immigrant Defense Project.

Gillibrand joined U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) in February to announce her support for the Marijuana Justice Act, landmark legislation to legalize marijuana. Specifically, the Marijuana Justice Act that Gillibrand has cosponsored would make marijuana legal at the federal level, create incentives for states to change their outdated marijuana laws, expunge convictions related to use or possession, and create a fund that will reinvest in communities that have been most affected by broken marijuana policies by investing in job training programs, educational opportunities, public libraries, community centers, and other programs to improve communities.

A copy of Gillibrand’s letter to Sessions can be found here.