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Roc NORML Statement on the MRTA

Our beloved Rochester Cannabis Community,

Let us start by saying – thank you. Truly. We wouldn’t have made it this far without all of our voices combined and we’re grateful for those who have joined in on this fight with us.

As we’re sure you know by now, the MRTA did not pass this legislative session, despite all of our efforts. But this is not a defeat – this is just a delay.

We’ll have many more details for you in the coming days, and at this point we want to share our official statement that was sent out to the press yesterday evening:

“The sponsors of the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA), Senator Krueger and Assembly Majority Leader Peoples-Stokes, worked tirelessly to deliver a marijuana legalization bill that would address longstanding racial and social inequities caused by prohibition. However, Governor Cuomo and the legislature consciously decided not to prioritize provisions that were necessary to end and correct New York’s long history of discriminatory arrests for marijuana prohibition. In spite of broad, statewide support for marijuana legalization, Governor Cuomo and the legislature were unwilling to stand up for racial justice and make history.

The decriminalization bill that is currently being negotiated would not end arrests for marijuana possession. Instead, the bill reduces penalties for public use and burning lines to a violation that can still ultimately lead to arrest. Marijuana was decriminalized by New York in 1977, and yet millions of people have been arrested since then.

Even after various county District Attorneys, including Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance, Jr. and Albany County DA David Soares ended prosecutions for marijuana possession, law enforcement officers in their jurisdiction continued to make arrests. More than 900,000 New Yorkers’ have been arrested for marijuana possession since 2000, and over 80% of arrested individuals have been Black or Latinx. There is nothing in the proposed decriminalization bill that suggests this practice will end.

While the bill would expunge records, it does so in a way that places the livelihood of immigrants at risk and imposes burdensome restrictions on affected individuals. Moreover, the proposed bill does not address existing obstacles to child welfare, housing, employment, professional licensing, higher education, and benefits for individuals who have been previously arrested for possession.
North Dakota decriminalized marijuana last month. That piece isn’t controversial. Actually addressing the legacy of harm from prohibition and targeted enforcement, and providing a pathway forward to a more equitable future, is what requires meaningful and decisive leadership. Our legislators and Governor Cuomo have failed in that regard, and have sent a message to New Yorkers that racial and economic justice is not a priority for them.

Comprehensive reform would have been an enormous economic driver for struggling communities across the state. But in a moment when they had a clear avenue for building up marginalized communities, they chose not to act. Instead, Governor Cuomo and legislators have attempted to sell us on half-measures that will jeopardize countless lives and futures, and perpetuate continued racial injustices. They must be held accountable, and cannot use a so-called decriminalization bill as political cover for their inaction.”

While this isn’t where we were hoping we’d be today, we are hopeful the work done this session will not be wasted. We are going to keep organizing and fighting until we get New Yorkers what we want and deserve.

HIGHest Regards,
Roc NORML Board of Directors

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