Press Releases

City Bar Recommends Legalization of Marijuana

Supports Legalization, Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana for Adult Non-Medical Use in New York State

The New York City Bar Association supports the Marihuana Regulation and Taxation Act, (A.3506-B – AM Peoples-Stokes/S.3040-B – Sen. Krueger) (“the Legislation”), which would create a system for the production, distribution and adult non-medical use of marijuana in New York State.

In a report issued by its Drugs & the Law Committee, the City Bar notes that this “well-crafted bill is complex, and seeks to establish a multi-tiered process for certification of, oversight of, and reporting by producers and distributors.” The Legislation legalizes limited possession, use and licensed cultivation and distribution of marijuana by adults age 21 and older. It creates a system governing the production and distribution of marijuana, and provides for state and local taxation of marijuana sales. The proposed system would be administered by a Bureau of Marihuana Policy (the “BMP”) within the State Liquor Authority (the “SLA”). The Legislation also allows for farming of industrial hemp.

The report examines preliminary data from other states that have legalized or decriminalized marijuana in recent years. The research finds decreases in youth consumption of marijuana in all states with relaxed marijuana laws, decreases in traffic fatalities, and financial benefits due to tax and licensing revenues, combined with cost savings from the reduction in arrests, prosecutions, and incarcerations. Based on this data, the report notes, “the harms and costs of marijuana prohibition to individuals and the community significantly outweigh the harms and costs of legalizing marijuana.”

The report also opposes criminalization of marijuana and supports the repeal of personal possession offenses for various reasons. “First, marijuana criminalization consumes a significant portion of New York’s limited criminal justice system resources. Every custodial arrest made and summons issued for personal possession offenses consumes police officers’ time, rendering those officers temporarily unavailable.” Next, prosecutors are called on to review and investigate the facts and circumstances of the arrest. “The investigation, verification, and drafting of the complaint require the prosecutor to consult with at least one of the arresting officers, resulting in two individuals attending to each arrest for some period of time.”

Additionally, expressing concern about the civil rights impacts of the current marijuana laws, the report notes that, in New York City, “the enforcement of these laws either intentionally or incidentally targeted black and Hispanic individuals.” In 2015, there were 16,590 arrests for low-level marijuana possession, down 42% from 2014 and down 67% from the nearly 51,000 arrests that occurred in 2011. Nevertheless, 88% of those who were arrested were African-American or Latino. 

The report concludes that “[m]arijuana prohibition is a costly and ineffective policy that has not succeeded in eliminating marijuana use. The failed policy has devastated families and communities, eroded respect for the law, and strained police-citizen relations.” Urging the adoption of the Legislation, the report additionally supports state and federal legislative and policy changes “that reduce or eliminate criminalization of marijuana and that permit, tax, and regulate the production, distribution, and adult use of marijuana.”

The New York City Bar Association formed the Committee on Drugs and the Law in 1986 to research and analyze why the criminalization of drug use, manufacture, and distribution had neither solved nor ameliorated the problems associated with the manufacture, distribution, possession and use of drugs. In the intervening 32 years, the Committee has extensively studied U.S. drug policy, consistently finding that the societal costs of drug prohibition are too high to justify. In 1994, the City Bar released the Committee’s landmark report “A Wiser Course: Ending Drug Prohibition.” In 2009, a follow-up report was released examining the progress (or lack thereof) around drug prohibition policy. Most recently, in 2016, the Committee issued “Charting a Wiser Course: Human Rights and the World Drug Problem.” In addition, the Committee has held multiple events on the topics of marijuana and drug prohibition.  Copies of these reports and more information on the work of the Committee can be found here.

Read the report here.

About the Association
The mission of the New York City Bar Association, which was founded in 1870 and has 24,000 members, is to equip and mobilize the legal profession to practice with excellence, promote reform of the law, and uphold the rule of law and access to justice in support of a fair society and the public interest in our community, our nation, and throughout the world.