Lawyer calls for reform ahead of potential marijuana legalization

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As New York prepares for the possible legalization of marijuana in 2019, a lawyer says the city government's first goal should be to expunge criminal records for those arrested for marijuana possession.

Mayor Bill de Blasio created a task force in cannabis legalization in July. He says the purpose of the force is to identify the goals and challenges that should guide the city for potential legalization. Eli Northrup, a lawyer at The Bronx Defenders, says the city needs to first deal with those arrested for marijuana possession while it was illegal, presuming legalization will happen in 2019.

"There needs to be automatic expungement of criminal records because the racial disparity will continue to haunt people," Northup says.

The NYPD changed its policy to issue criminal summonses instead of arresting for possession of marijuana in open view in November 2014, with some exceptions. The city says this led to a 37 percent decline in arrests from 2014 to 2015. They also say although arrests have declined, the racial disparity has still persisted, with 89 percent of marijuana possession arrests in 2018 being of black or Hispanic descent.

Northrup says the city is acknowledging what needs to be done, but it needs to be held to those recommendations when the bill is presented to Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

"It needs to make sure that the resource, the tax revenue goes back to the people most affected and that the opportunities are there for the people most affected," Northup says.


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