It has been a busy few months for New York state Governor Andrew Cuomo. The Obama ally maintained a high profile during the election (he seems to be poised to make his own run for the White House) and campaigned for the president. Governor Cuomo has also been vocal in his criticism during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy which includes attempting to break up LIPA’s energy monopoly and has demanded that Congress appropriates money to the region to help rebuild. He has also gotten out in front of the gun debate and is seeking to make pass one of the country’s toughest assault weapon ban.
However, Governor Cuomo has also taken on another important issue. When Mr. Cuomo first ran for governor he maintained a traditional skepticism to marijuana reform. He even sounded harshly against any progressive legislation in this area. Over the course of the past two years his public comments have softened considerably. Last spring, the governor informed the public that he was seeking to eliminate New York’s controversial “Stop and Frisk” policy. This loophole, goes against the spirit New York’s marijuana decriminalization laws that were passed in the 1970s. Possession of under 25g (concealed) is supposed to result in a civil citation ticket. However, if marijuana is in “plain sight”, then the charges escalate to a much more severe misdemeanor.
Earlier this week, Governor Cuomo re-affirmed his stance. On Wednesday, in a public speech he said “The legislature finds that arrests, criminal prosecutions, and criminal penalties are inappropriate for people who possess small quantities of marihuana for personal use. Every year, this process needlessly scars thousands of lives and wastes millions of dollars in law enforcement resources, while detracting from the prosecution of serious crime.” He also said marijuana arrests that “stigmatize and criminalize must end now.”
Advocates for marijuana reform have been pleased to see Governor Cuomo trying to fix the controversial loophole. “Stop and Frisk” is used primarily within New York City’s jurisdiction and unevenly targets Blacks and Hispanics, many of whom are teens. Gabriel Sayegh, New York state director for the Drug Policy Alliance, said “We cannot have the same laws applied differently to different groups of people when the dividing line is race.” While New York City is known as a progressive haven, the rest of the state has been resistant to making any changes to marijuana laws. However, with mounting debt and new financial priorities after Hurricane Sandy, New York can no longer afford to lock up so many people who pose no public threat. Many residents are angry over their tax dollars being used to fill up jails with teens. We are glad to see the Governor take initiative and if the second generation governor (his father is former NY Governor Mario Cuomo) with obvious presidential aspirations feels he can get this done without political turmoil, then it is obvious that the reform movement has turned a major corner.