New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Tuesday that the New York City Police Department will “overhaul” and reform its marijuana enforcement policies.
Human Rights Watch has analyzed drug policies and their impact on human rights and racial justice for more than a decade and advocates decriminalizing the personal use and possession of drugs.
The mayor’s announcement came days after the New York Times reported that black people were arrested on low-level marijuana charges at eight times the rate of white, non-Hispanic people over the past three years and Hispanic people at five times the rate of white people. The Manhattan District Attorney also announced a new “Decline to Prosecute” policy. And the NYC Comptroller issued a report concluding that legalizing adult-use of marijuana could bring in US$336 million a year in taxes.
A 2016 joint report by Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union found that enforcement of drug possession laws causes extensive and unjustifiable harm to individuals and communities across the country.
New York City’s policy changes come at a time when American voters support legalizing marijuana by two to one, nine states have legalized recreational marijuana, and 29 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana.
Now that New York City has taken this step, it must look at what other reforms are needed to address decades of failed, rights abusing policies around marijuana possession and use. The city should look to cities like Seattle and the State of California, which have gone beyond reforming enforcement policies and created programs to expunge records and nullify past convictions.
The developments of the past week have been positive and encouraging but much more is needed to correct the harm caused by decades of failed, harmful, and racially discriminatory drug policies.