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NYC’s de Blasio: Medical Marijuana ‘Smart’ But Not Sure on Full Legalization

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New York Mayor Bill de Blasio is happy there’s a new medical marijuana dispensary in his city, but he’s not yet sold on ending cannabis prohibition across the board.

The “state voted for medical marijuana to be available, which I think is a smart thing,” de Blasio said in a Thursday appearance on Hot 97’s Ebro in the Morning show.

The state’s medical cannabis program came online last month, and one of the first dispensaries is in Manhattan’s popular Union Square.

When pressed about full legalization, the mayor said, “I think we have to see what happens in Colorado and Washington State.”

The issue is “gonna play out over the next year or two,” de Blasio predicted. “There are real mixed realities here, a real double-edged sword. I’m sure there’ll be some positives, I’m sure there’ll be some negatives. But we have a real good experiment we’re watching right now in those two states and we have to see what comes of that.”

In a related development, the state’s Division of Criminal Justice Services just announced that marijuana arrests in New York City are sharply down since last year.

According to a Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) analysis of the state data, there were 16,590 arrests for low-level marijuana possession in New York City in 2015, a 42% drop from 2014 and a 67% reduction from the nearly 51,000 cannabis arrests that took place in the city in 2011.

“New York is finally starting to shed its embarrassing distinction of being the marijuana arrest capital of the world,” said Kassandra Frederique, DPA’s New York State director. “Over the last twenty years, more than 700,000 lives were irrevocably harmed by our draconian marijuana arrest policies. We must repair the harms of marijuana prohibition and end the biased policing practices that have ruined the lives of so many young Black and Latino New Yorkers.”

In late 2014 de Blasio announced that NYPD officers would respond to low-level marijuana possession offenses with summonses instead of handcuffs. The reduction in arrests reported by the state appears to be a direct result of the change.

Advocates say the results are worth celebrating but that more reforms are needed.

“It’s heartening to see that arrests for marijuana possession are down significantly. But the numbers also show that enforcement continues to be heavily racialized, with communities of color bearing a disproportionate share of the costs,” said State Sen. Liz Krueger, who is sponsoring a bill to legalize marijuana in New York.

“Marijuana prohibition is simply a failed policy,” she added. “Allowing personal use, with appropriate regulation and taxation, will end the unacceptable racial disparities in arrests, allow law enforcement resources to go where they’re most needed, close off an underground criminal marketplace, and provide additional revenue and economic development opportunities throughout the state. That’s the kind of smart, responsible policy that our communities desperately need.”

The New York City Council supports the bill and included it in its Albany legislative agenda last year. But de Blasio, who has acknowledged using marijuana while in college, isn’t yet sold on full legalization.

“It’s a very complicated issue, as always, because we have to look at all of the impact,” he told Hot 97. “What impact does it have on safety? What impact does it have on health?

“My gut feeling here is we have two states that have decided to go do it,” de Blasio said. “Let’s find out what happens with them and then we can judge from there.”

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